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You’d think this roller coaster was never going to stop’: experiences of adult children of parents with serious mental illness

Authors


Kim Foster, Associate Professor, Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia. Telephone: +612 9351 0860.
E-mail: kim.foster@sydney.edu.au

Abstract

Aims and objectives.  The aims of this qualitative study were to explore the experience of being an adult child of a parent with serious mental illness and how adult children have coped with their experience.

Background.  Children of parents with serious mental illness are a potentially vulnerable group because of risk factors associated with parental mental illness. While there has been considerable research into factors that may strengthen or impair their well-being, there has been little exploration of the subjective experience of growing up with parental mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Design.  An interpretive qualitative design including autoethnography.

Methods.  Unstructured narrative interview and written narrative data from 10 participants were analysed using van Manen’s hermeneutic method.

Results.  Four themes that captured the experience of being the adult child of a parent with serious mental illness were revealed: (1) Being uncertain: `you'd think this roller coaster was never going to stop'; (2) Struggling to connect: `we were super close and now we're not'; (3) Being responsible: `I think I grew up in a hurry'; (4) Seeking balance: `I had to be in control of the situation so awful things wouldn't happen'.

Conclusions.  Being the adult child of a parent with serious mental illness can involve a chaotic family life where adult children assume substantial caregiving roles. Relationships between parents and adult children can become strained. However, support from others including health professionals can strengthen adult children’s resilience and ability to cope with these challenges.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Nurses in a range of health care settings are in prime positions to intervene early and provide information and support for children and families where parents have a mental illness. Family-focused care can strengthen children’s and parent’s relationships and support the family’s ability to cope.

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