When Parents with Severe Mental Illness Lose Contact with Their Children: Are Psychiatric Symptoms or Substance Use to Blame

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry



Document Type


Medical Subject Headings

Signs and Symptoms; Substance-Related Disorders; Child of Impaired Parents; Parent-Child Relations


Health Services Research | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology


This study compared parental psychiatric symptom severity, and the absence or presence of severe substance abuse, as predictors of contact with minor children for a representative sample of adults with diagnoses of serious mental illness (N = 45). Child contact and psychiatric symptom severity were measured during regularly scheduled 6-month research interviews over a total 30-month period following each participant's entry into the project. Severe substance abuse was documented as present or absent for the 6-month interval preceding each interview. Results revealed that incidence of severe substance abuse was repeatedly associated with less frequent parent-child contact, even after controlling for psychiatric symptoms, diagnosis, gender, age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Neither psychiatric diagnosis nor symptom severity predicted frequency of child contact when substance abuse was taken into account. Mental health agencies offering parenting classes for adults with serious mental illness should incorporate substance use interventions to reduce loss of child custody and strengthen parent-child relationships.

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Citation: J Loss Trauma. 2008 Jul 1;13(4):261-287. Link to article on publisher's site

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Link to Article in PubMed

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