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Another Side of It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: Toxic Inheritances!

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay is a Korean drama about familial relations between teenagers and their parents, equipped with a strong mental health theme as its background. In keeping with its mental health theme, the drama features everything from the setting of a mental hospital called OK Mental Hospital to highlighting characters with mental illnesses. One of the main characters, with an epic backstory, is Ko Moon Young, a woman who was raised in an isolated castle by famous parents: Ko Dae Hwan, a famous architect, and Do Hui Jae, a famous author who wrote "Killing the Wicked Witch of the West". As a little girl, Ko Moon Young was fragile; living alone surrounded her with loneliness and isolation. In her fragility and loneliness, she grew up in the absence of love from her mother, a secretly evil woman who wished more than anything for her daughter to grow up to be just like her. One day, Do Hui Jae killed a woman who worked at the castle; Ko Dae Hwan, upon discovering this crime, murdered his wife soon after. Unbeknownst to him, his daughter witnessed everything. The fear that his daughter would end up inheriting his wife’s evil traits began to take over his mind; one night, when she was asleep, he tried to strangle her until she nearly died. In short, Ko Dae Hwan was admitted into the OK Mental Hospital and stayed there for years to come while his daughter Ko Moon Young grew up to be a beautiful woman, albeit with an antisocial personality, arrogance, and a lack of empathy towards others.

Ko Moon Young’s childhood was incredibly gloomy, filled with memories of her mother’s coldness and the trauma of her mother’s death at the hands of her own father; that’s not to mention the instance when her father had slipped out of sanity and attempted to kill her in her sleep. These crucial aspects of her early life were the cause of why her mental state as an adult was severely disturbed. Indirectly, her parents’ mental health significantly impacted her own.

In reality, stories such as this are just as likely to happen. Maybe it’s not always obvious, but subconsciously, the lives and mental states of each of our family members (especially our parents) can have consequential effects on our own mental health. 

Parents’ mental state has a profound effect on a teenager’s mental health

According to a study, disturbances in parents’ mental health correlates with a decline in a family’s functionality, which indirectly influences a child’s development. A decline in a family’s functionality includes an increase in conflicts, decreased ability to adapt, and a disorganized pattern in daily planning activities regarding the family; this trend was proven by a group of researchers who experimented on 67 parents with mental health issues. From all the families with parents who suffered from mental health disturbances in the study sample, 38% of them experienced family dysfunction and 43% have children who suffer a mental illness. In conclusion, the functionality of a family and a child’s mental health have an interwoven relationship with parents’ mental health, inseparable from one another. 

Mental health of teenagers with parents who suffer from mental illness: negative and positive possibilities

For years, many studies have been conducted on the mental health of children with parents who suffer from mental illnesses; a majority of the results indicate that a parent’s mental illness contributes a negative effect on their children’s mental health, but surprisingly, there are studies which demonstrated a positive impact.

Many children with parents suffering from mental illnesses were found to have acquired some sort of mental illness themselves. Children could have internalized problems, such as anxiety or depression, or externalized problems, such as aggression or opposition to authority; in affected children, these issues usually present themselves in relatively high levels, coupled with social isolation in some cases. Additionally, these children are faced with an elevated risk for both mental and physical illnesses, as well as social deficiencies, compared to children whose parents are mentally healthy. Without protective factors, these risks could persist well into adulthood.

On the other hand, the opposite could be true in several cases. Researchers have found that some children with parents suffering from mental illnesses will actually try to find ways to help their parents; many of them reported that taking care of family members with mental health issues have actually tightened their familial bonds and helped them become more independent, which indicates that this experience could have positive impacts. Living with parents with mental illness is not always a negative experience; in fact, it could contribute to an increased protective factor and a strengthening experience that would positively impact a child’s life. Among the protective factors honed by taking care of a family member with mental illness are an increase in endurance, increased intelligence, acquisition of adaptive problem-solving skills, increased social aptitude, increased self-understanding, and the ability to better regulate their emotions.


Mental health problems caused by parental mental health issues could be passed down intergenerationally; this is called toxic inheritances, which is a process in which the cycle of distortion, calmness, and violence caused by mental illness could be inherited by one generation from the previous one and continue to have a serious effect on the family for generations to come. A study showed that from an intergenerational viewpoint, parental mental health is incredibly impactful because parents, besides having a formative role in their children’s development, also play a crucial role in shaping how their children raise and educate their own children in the future. Because of this, parental mental health is an integral aspect in the process of raising a mentally and physically healthy child (and the generations to come).

Wiegand-Grefe, S., Sell, M., Filter, B., & Plass-Christl, A. (2019). Family Functioning and Psychological Health of Children with Mentally Ill Parents. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(7), 1278.

Patrick, P. M., Reupert, A. E., & McLean, L. A. (2019). "We Are More than Our Parents' Mental Illness": Narratives from Adult Children. International journal of env