Is it irresponsible for the depressed to have children?

Never one to hide personal details, comic Sarah Silverman is being candid about how her depression factored into her decision to remain childless

Sarah Silverman
(Image credit: LAN/Corbis)

Sarah Silverman routinely triggers controversy with her sometimes "disturbing" jokes about everything from rape to the Holocaust to abortion. But now the comedian's personal observations about depression have put her at the center of a serious debate about motherhood. During an interview on the TV show The Conversation with Amanda DeCadenet, Silverman spoke candidly about her battle with depression, and said that she was forgoing childbirth because she didn't want to pass her psychological problems on to a son or daughter. Here, a brief guide to Silverman's comments and the issues they raised:

What exactly did Silverman say?

She was talking about the pressure she feels to have children now that she's in her 40s. Even her gynecologist suggested that she freeze her eggs in case she decides to have children later in life. But Silverman, who has openly discussed her psychological troubles in her act and in her book The Bedwetter, said that while she might adopt some day, she has decided not to have biological children. "I don't want kids," she said. "I know that I have this depression and that it's in my family. Every family has their stuff but, for me, I just don't feel strong enough to see that in a child."

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Do depressed adults have depressed children?

Researchers have found a genetic link between severe depression and genetics. Ten percent of Americans will experience "major depression" at some point in their lives, and women are twice as likely than men to suffer from it. People who have a parent or sibling with major depression are two or three times more likely than the average person to develop depression, according to a report by the Stanford Medical School. And the risk of depression is four or five times higher than normal if the person's mother, father, brother, or sister has had recurring bouts with depression. If depressed parents adopt, kids don't risk "catching it" from them.

Is it irresponsible for depressed parents to have children?

That's a question "a surprising number of people struggle with," says Lindsay Cross at Mommyish. A lot of people have illnesses that run in their families — depression, yes, but also things like alcoholism — that we can't bear to think we might pass on to our kids. Since I struggle with moderate depression issues, says Anna Breslaw at Jezebel, Silverman's candor "made me seriously consider whether it was my responsibility not to have children. On the other hand, the final stop on this train of thought is the intersection of Eugenics Street and Gattaca Boulevard." Is that really where parenting should be headed?

Sources: Crushable, Jezebel, Mommyish, Stanford Medical School

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