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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Experiences of adult offspring of parents with a mental illness : putting together the pieces and making meaning of experiences Harstone, Andrea Nancy


According to a 2009 Canadian national health survey approximately 12% of children under the age of 12 live in a household were the survey respondent reported one or more mood, anxiety or substance use disorder (Bassani, Padoin, Philipp & Veldhiuzen, 2009). In fact, one out of every five individuals will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. It is widely accepted that people who experience mental illness parent at the same rate as the general population. Numerous studies have explored the topic of children of parents with a mental illness. Early research focused on understanding the adverse effects on children and specifically on identifying risk for childhood psychopathy. More recently researchers have begun to explore the positive aspects of growing up with parental mental illness in light of children who are seen as demonstrating considerable resiliency. Strength-based aspects to the experiences of growing up as a child of parental mental illness have been included in some studies. The goal of this exploratory qualitative study was to explore the experiences of adults, who as children, grew up with a mentally ill mother and/or father. The method used included recruiting study participants using purposive sampling. The data collection and analysis was informed by grounded theory including a constant comparison of interview data and data analysis. Findings in this study supported previous research related to growing up with parental mental illness. Experiences of study participants were also similar to findings in existing research. Unique findings that would be worthy of further exploration included experiences of growing up in a two parent family with a father with a mental illness. Significant challenges with transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood were found across many of the interviews. The process of making meaning of experiences growing up in a family with parental mental illness as study participants experience their own significant life events was also found. These findings can inform policy and practice working with individuals and families who experience parental mental illness.

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