Mental Illness and Marriage

Are people with schizophrenia or other serious mental illness called to be single? Is marriage involving a husband/wife with schizophrenia or other serious mental illness invalid in the eyes of Church? Always? Usually? Sometimes?

PS: It isn’t my intent to offend anyone. I think the answer is “sometimes” but I just want to make sure. I am aware that there are probably a number of married people with serious mental illness on this forum.

I’ld say sometimes, there are some mental illnesses that would mean they could not form proper intent, like my sister is severely disabled, and this includes a mental element, she could never form proper intent, therefore the marriage would be invalid.

However in the case of Schizophrenia, i would say the marriage is perfectly valid, as they can form proper intent (if its a serious case of schizophrenia, granted it would be through the use of anti-psychotics), however there are some mental illnesses that would make the person unable to form intent, therefore the marriage would be invalid.

I am married and have bipolar disorder. It can be done but the person needs to be in treatment - or ready to go back into treatment if they are in a ‘good’ period - and the spouse needs to know what’s going on and have informed consent. Talk to the person’s doctors and etc.

One problem is that mental illness covers a lot of territory and some people are severely ill and have been from a young age while others are seriously ill periodically but have large amounts of time when they do better, and some people while feeling a lot of distress are not seriously ill in that they are very functional. They definitely have a problem but are not impaired the way that some people are.

For a lot of people taking medication is essential but the medicine needs to be closely monitored and not all psychiatrists do that. Many/most do but if a doctor is distracted you need to be prepared to change doctors b/c a few months on the wrong medication can be hard, it can encourage symptoms. So for the spouse a lot depends on how compliant the patient is and how good he or she feels the doctors are.

Also a lot of people stress medicine but many people really also need and benefit from psychotherapy, including people with schizophrenia. Not everyone with schizophrenia is difficult to understand. Some people have a lot of insight into their symptoms including people with psychosis. In schizophrenia the negative symptoms tend to be more disabling (blunt affect, poverty of speech/thought, catatonia, etc.).

It helps if the couple agree in other ways. for example a religiously mixed marriage is hard on a lot of couples, add that to mental illness and it’s tough. I’m not saying that couples have to be of the same ethnic background but if they really disagree about religion or anything else like finances, etc. then they could have trouble.

There are far more people with mental illness who comply with treatment than you’d believe from hearing the news. People tend to focus on those in troubled situations b/c they need the most help but a lot of people are in treatment and doing pretty well. When patients go off their medications it is often not a desire to stay mentally ill, but the side effects while include obesity. Some people gain a lot of weight and that is the side effect people complain about the most.

Severe mental illness won’t go away but it can be managed. A lot unfortunately depends on how much money you have, people with money and good insurance coverage get better treatment too often, including psychotherapy. Lack of insight can be a problem but therapy can help with that. A lot depends on the family of origin. It used to be that the family/mother was blamed for mental illness.

While that was not the case it is also not true that all families are blameless - whether people ‘caused’ mental illness or not some families are not supportive, they will basically “throw away” their mentally ill children even to the point of not helping when they are close to death. That is an extreme of unsupportiveness. Ironically the people saying that families are not to blame are probably correct for THEIR families but those are the people who help their children. The ones who do not help their children don’t bother to get involved so you don’t hear from them.

On the other hand some families are very loving and supportive through all kinds of bad times.

Another question for the spouse is, does the person use mental illness as an excuse to get away with bad behavior?

Then there is the issue of children, it’s complicated, I personally think that some but not all people with mental illness can be good parents - it depends how ill you are and for how long and what your symptoms are and etc. This goes against some posts I’ve read on CAF where they say it’s Church policy that if you are too ill to have children you can’t get married. There are people who are not able to become parents for one reason or other. I’m not talking about having a condition that makes parenting more difficult, I’m talking about being very severely impaired and this will apply in the most serious situations but not in many other ones. That’s why it’s important to look at people as individuals.

It used to be that you had to be really really really really ill to get any kind of diagnosis, maybe 100 or 80 years ago. The stigma was intense. It is not ‘fun’ to be mentally ill but now a lot more people are aware of it and they are diagnosing it a lot more often which means that many people will not be as ill as patients used to be in the past. The diagnostic criteria lists symptoms but not necessarily how intense or disabling they are; you need more information from a doctor about that.

Most people with mental illness are not violent to their families or anyone else. If people are, it is often a long-standing problem that already exists prior to dating that person.

It’s a lot to learn but the stigma is no where near what it used to be and I think most educated people just tune that out. On the positive side, people with mental illness have often thought a lot about spirituality, b/c when your mind needs help a lot of people turn to God. also there is a link that is not really understood but there between mental illness and creativity. additionally mental illness teaches people about suffering and b/c it often comes on early in life, that life is not about what you can accomplish in this world. That does not mean people are doomed to failure. It means you don’t get into the rat race basically.

It might be worth asking the apologist about mental illness and having children and marriage as well as talking to a priest IRL.

Well no, because what if people who’re already married have a mental illness? My mother developed post-natal depression 15 years ago and has still not recovered. My father has stuck through her ‘episodes’ through thick and thin. I marvel at their marriage. It has been difficult at times but they truly love and appreciate each other and I can see how much my dad must love my mum to have to deal with her illness the way he does. But, he’s supposed to - ‘in sickness and in health’.

Well, I think people with serious disorders, with no hope of a reasonably effective cure should probably abstain from marriage. However, that is impossible to enforce and up to their conscience. Furthermore, it might be hard to expect people who find themselves normal to realize that there is something wrong, somehow independently, and then make the choice not to marry.

However, others can take efforts to avoid the effects of mental illness in a marriage in one primary way: make sure that those you date are mentally stable. Judge how they react to different situations. Do they seem rational, do they tend to view situations realistically and respond proportionately to issues? Are they always moody and unable to express their feelings?

Of course everyone has flaws, but it’s best to avoid the ones which would make a good marriage unlikely.

I have a lot of beef with this post. I am ‘seriously’ mentally ill, there is no cure, and I do not feel called to be single, I am married with a small child!
Taking efforts to avoid mental illness in a marriage? Did you not read the post about developing post-partum depression?
In addition, many mental illnesses do not show their effects until people are far into adulthood. Irrational does not mean mentally ill, neither does moodiness or ‘responding proportionately’. Mental Illness is NOT a flaw, is is an* illness*. would you avoid marrying someone you loved because they had cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or some other ‘flaw’? Mental illness CAN be difficult in a marriage, but having a loving and supportive spouse makes all of the difference in the world. Thank goodness my husband did not avoid my ‘flaws’, since according to you it would make a good marriage unlikely.

I am sorry if I got inflamed here, but it hits home and is very personal for me. I struggle constantly to make my marriage a good one, mental illness is the least of my problems. It can be difficult, but it makes me sick to think you view people with mental illness as ‘flawed’. That hurts me a lot, I am and will always be a strong advocate of the mentally ill and handicapped. Opinions like yours give us less credibility and disenfranchise us worse than we ever could ourselves. It tears me apart that society still views us as some blight to be locked away in an institution, or castrated in case we pass our ‘flaws’ onto our offspring. Do you not remember that there was a time when the mentally ill and handicapped were forcibly sterilized? The fact that within the last century, that practice was condoned cuts me to the bone.

I would suggest you check your biases… and i mean that in the nicest way possible. Do some research… you can’t pick the mentally ill out of a crowd or social situation based on mood swings, perceptions, or other superficial signs.
(wipes sweat off forehead)

Does anyone see why the quoted comment might be hurtful? :frowning:

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I think the poster was actually talking about something serious like schizophrenia, where the person might not have a good grasp of reality at any given period in time. Not necessarily PPD or even bipolar.

As that poster stated, people who are not in touch with reality in the first place would not have the wherewithal to recognize that they ought to stay unmarried. Also schizophrenia sometimes doesn’t even appear until the mid-20’s.

I have a mental illness and I do think I am called to be single. The illness is not the only reason but is a contributing factor to this decision to live a single life devoted to the Lord.

People that are Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, and even PPD do often lose touch with reality in heightened states. You can’t put schizophrenia on a pedstal and say it is ‘serious’ while other mental illnesses are somehow less debilitating. There are high functioning schizophrenics and very low functioning people that are bipolar or ADHD. All mental illness comes on a spectrum. I just feel like the post was condemning the dating or marrying of people who are seriously mentally ill, avoiding us like we are a plague of some sort. It’s not contagious, and we don’t make poor marital partners. That’s what I was hoping to point out. Many people without mental illness display one of the many traits the poster pointed out that should be ‘avoided’, and I felt like that was just too big of a generalization. That’s all.

I have been mildly psychotic before, and quite delusional. I do not have schizophrenia, but I consider my mental illness to be serious, even though it is currently being well controlled.

Not everything can be avoided you are right (and not everything should be avoided - you are misinterpreting me).

Irrational does not mean mentally ill, neither does moodiness or ‘responding proportionately’.

You’re right, they aren’t synonymous, but they’re all traits (or lack of traits) to look for.

Mental Illness is NOT a flaw, is is an* illness*.

Why is it not a flaw? All humans have flaws - in the sense that some traits make roles impossible or very difficult to assume, for instance why those with homosexual tendencies are recommended not to seek the priesthood. This does not mean that they have any less human dignity. That’s not at all what I’m saying.

would you avoid marrying someone you loved because they had cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or some other ‘flaw’?

That would be up to the two dating. If they are willing to work through things, and can reasonably ensure that they will be good parents to the children they are open to conceiving, then more power to them! But I think those who have traits (if they can recognize them, as I mentioned earlier) which would make a stable home life and child-rearing impossible should pray seriously about whether or not they are called to matrimony. Matrimony is not a right.

Thank goodness my husband did not avoid my ‘flaws’, since according to you it would make a good marriage unlikely.

unlikely, not impossible. Nothing is impossible.

It tears me apart that society still views us as some blight to be locked away in an institution, or castrated

Never have I, nor will I advocate such treatment of human beings.

My only point is this: if someone has a personality trait, disorder etc. which makes them unable to fulfill their spousal and parental duties (and this is open for interpretation), they should seek guidance on whether they are fit for marriage.

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I interpreted the original question to refer to the time of marriage, not a spouse who subsequently develops a mental illness, who deserves the love that the two sposes promised when they vowed “in sickness and in health”.

Perhaps the OP refers to canon 1095:

Can. 1095 The following are incapable of contracting marriage:
1/ those who lack the sufficient use of reason;
2/ those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted;
3/ those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.

It is clear, then, that some mental illnesses can prevent a person from understanding marriage (§§1-2) or prevent them from having any chance of fulfilling marriage (§3), and that these people, if the illness is present at the time of marriage, cannot marry.

I’d be very suprised if the Catholic Church ever condoned sterilisation or castration (I know it campaigned for a long time against muscal castration in Italy), even where these practices were fashionable among medical professionals.

I agree with this. I wrote a really long post b/c there are a lot of factors to consider. One of them is that I think you can’t make generalizations based on diagnosis b/c the criteria for diagnosis of mental illness involve lists of symptoms. These lists are very broad, so people who are really different from each other can get the same diagnosis. I have severe bipolar disorder and have had it for a long time.

People with mental illness are individuals, and I think many of them can marry and perhaps have and raise children. I think you have to look at people as individuals which means generalizing on a message board won’t apply to individual situations. I also think it is extremely important to look at the positive which includes the abilities the person has and his or her resources, which include money, ability to hold down a job and/or parent, creative ability, spiritual resources, and family and/or community support.

Despite other positive qualities, ability to give consent at the time of marriage is essential. Without it there can be no marraige.

Perhaps the words ‘serious’ and ‘severe’ are being used in two slightly different ways. Someone could have a ‘serious’ diagnosed mental illness but still be able to give consent, and indeed to live a good marriage thereafter. On the other hand, someone else may have other ‘serious’ mental symptoms which do not fit into a current medical category, but which nevertheless prevent true marital consent.

Yeah, this is offensive.

I have serious depression and anxiety. I have had both since I was 7. They will never go away. For the first time, I’m on medication that works well; however, there are times when the meds wear off, etc. that have me freaking out and having panic attacks. If by ‘serious’ you mean ‘chronic’, and which, unmedicated, would lead to possible suicide/self-harm and an inability to parent - yes, I have a serious mental illness.

But it’s being TREATED. This is a disease. It’s not a character flaw. It’s not a moral weakness. It’s a medical issue. I can only assure you that I am fully capable of consent.

“Make sure those you date are mentally stable”?! Thanks. Glad my husband didn’t follow your advice. Then our son wouldn’t be here. Many, many people I know have suffered from mental illness. You wouldn’t tell people not to date someone with kidney issues. So don’t generalize about the mentally ill. You wouldn’t know I was mentally ill if you met me on the street; my husband and my doctors are the only ones who know the true extent of my handicap (which is what it is). It’s like this for many, if not most, of us.

You are adding to the stigma that we suffer on a daily basis by making comments like this.

I agree, the person needs to be able to give consent. I know that words like serious and severe are used differently and I really don’t understand them, in general. I personally think that the ability to give consent depends on the amount of insight a person has. Many people with mental illness have insight, even some people with psychotic symptoms. Insight doesn’t have to be perfect but it does require being able to give consent and knowing that you need treatment, assuming that applies. If people don’t have insight but their illness is not disabling or severe, they could probably give consent.

Memory can be flawed but I remember symptoms going back to when I was 4. I was told I was disturbed in high school and started to get therapy in college. When I was growing up some very religious people like my parents did not endorse therapy b/c they thought it promoted self-absorption. Now a lot of people feel differently.

Also there were a whole bunch of ‘new’ medications developed in the 90s and it really is a different picture from what it used to be. People who used to be in institutions or on the street can often make it on their own now. However I do think in many cases psychotherapy is essential also, but plenty of people don’t need that.

The biggest problem with mental illness that I see is the denial of health care coverage in too many cases, which creates a group who although suffering can pay for treatment, and those who can’t. I agree with people who say that it can be managed and controlled. I will never not have symptoms b/c I have a really severe form of bipolar but a lot of people can control their illness with treatment.

I also do think there can be advantages, that people who have trouble early in life with any illness often think about God and spirituality which can cause spiritual growth. Creativity is another advantage that goes along with some conditions for reasons I don’t really understand but seem to be documented, and that goes beyond bipolar.

ChiRo, I am sorry if you feel attacked. That was not my intention.

I do understand where you are coming from with the issue of consent, and I believe that may come from a lack of understanding about mental illness. Most people suffering from mental illness have more lucid periods than delusional, psychotic, or unaware. So long as it was clear that they were lucid and able to give consent at the time of marriage, I do not believe all people with mental illness should avoid marriage or be avoided by other people as marital partners. I suppose the reason it pushed a button with me is because you did speak in generalizations in your first post, and it just seemed cold and matter of fact.

I know you were trying to give insight into the OP’s question, but I still stand that mental illness is not a flaw, it is a true illness! I will vehemently stand by that because I know enough personally and academically about mental illness to know that people who have it did not ask for it, or do anything to bring it on. Therefore, calling it a flaw is very insulting and implies that people with mental illness or handicaps are lacking on some level of personal conviction.

I hope that everyone’s insight has perhaps helped you understand a little bit more about mental illness as a whole, and how it affects people who practice Catholic faith. Here is an olive branch so that you don’t feel attacked or like your opinions don’t count, but I do hope you have gained a little more perspective here.

Would be interested in feedback about agoraphobia. It would mean that if I married and my husband, say, was away from home and then had to be hospitalized farther away than I could drive (and I don’t fly at all :eek:) I wouldn’t be able to go to him without help. And with children, which we would have to adopt as I’m physically unable to have any, I’d need help maybe with similar things for them.

Would that be the same as being physically paralyzed or blind? Needing help but being a decent spouse and parent otherwise? :confused: I have thought of talking about this with a priest, just in general, and if I do meet a nice man, I will for sure do so. (Even in just dating I would have to be honest about my “issues” and if he was willing to work with me that’d be a good sign, methinks.)

But I’d be curious what others think about marrying with agoraphobia and panic stuff already present.

I think that unfortunately, isolation which can be like or turn into panic/agoraphobia is too common in Western society. Didn’t Mother Teresa call it the poverty or cancer of the West, or something? I don’t mean to minimize your suffering, but I think a lot of people struggle with this to some degree or other. A lot depends on how much family/Church/community support you have. I think when people are able to reach out they can get really good responses, over time. Also what your (future) fiance would think - he’d need to know what you can and can’t do and his opinions would be important.

But what I’m getting at is, if it’s OK for someone who is physically crippled not to be able to do everything someone totally able-bodied would be able to do, and that person if I’m not mistaken doesn’t have an impediment to marriage, would agoraphobia be looked on in the same way, or would it be more like “insanity” or inability to fulfill obligations? Guess I’m still not sure what it would be.

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