“Will my mental-health issues affect my ability to get custody of, or access to, my children?”
Mental-health issues (such as depression or anxiety) are often at the forefront in matters of child custody, visitation, and determination of parental fitness and competence. It is not uncommon for one or both parents to suffer from an illness that requires some form of treatment.
Though there have been fewer stereotypes attached to mental-health issues in recent times, society still attributes a taboo to it and the various treatments. Often, the use of psychotropic medication is considered a bone of contention to question the ability to be an effective parent. I believe the opposite is true, however. The presence of such illness can be debilitating and affect the ability to parent effectively. But proper treatment often enables one to be a more stable, effective, and nurturing parent, and medication is a sign that one is taking control to make him/herself a more stable person.
Mental-health illness is no different than any other medical illness. With proper treatment, one can live a healthy and productive life with such illness. When one chooses not to seek treatment, one compromises his/her ability to be an effective parent. Moreover, the issues of divorce and custody can trigger short-term mental distress that could potentially affect one’s ability to be a competent parent. Seeking treatment, especially psychopharmacologic treatment, can be an effective intervention to ensure stability and maintain the parent’s ability to continue to care for the child.
Gil Lichtshein, MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Boca Raton and Boynton Beach, FL.