Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Growing Up with a Mother with Depression: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Growing Up with a Mother with Depression: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the past 2 decades, a growing number of studies focused on the influence of parental mental illness on general family functioning (e.g., Dickstein et al., 1998; Foster et al., 2008) and on children's well-being in particular (e.g., Cummings, Keller, & Davies, 2005; Goodman et al., 2010). The main aim of this type of research is predicting and explaining relations between parental mental illness and psychopathology in the child and later in life (e.g., Forbes et al., 2006; Peisah, Brodaty, Luscombe, & Anstey, 2004; Whiffen, Kerr, & Kallos-Lilly, 2005). In this research, children tend to be pictured as passive receivers of adverse outcomes to their parent's condition. Lacking a circular conceptualization of family dynamics, research on children of parents with depression, for instance, often unilaterally stresses the diminishing parenting capacities and the negative impact of depression on the parent-child interaction (e.g., Hammen, 1997).

While some studies examined stress and coping in relation to parental depression (e.g., Compas, Langrock, Keller, Merchant, & Copeland, 2002) or children's behavioral and emotional responses to low parental mood (Solantaus-Simula, Punamaki, & Beardslee, 2002a, 2002b), only a few studies have explored children's experiences of parental depression in the family (Earley & Cushway, 2002; Goodman, Tully, Connell, Hartman, & Huh, 2011; Mordoch & Hall, 2008). One important theme that emerges in these studies is the child's meaning making. As the parental depression itself is often one of the subj ects that is not under discussion in the family, children express their need for more information about the parent's illness (Meadus & Johnson, 2000; Stallard, Norman, Huline-Dickens, Salter, & Cribb, 2004). However, while children need information to give meaning to what is happening around them, there is also a danger in receiving too much information as this might burden the child (Stallard et al., 2004).

Apart from enabling an understanding of the parent's behavior, making sense of the parental depression and their own experiences is also related to coping with this parental condition (Aldrigde & Becker, 2003; Meadus & Johnson, 2000). The child's experience of coping with the parent's depression is investigated by Mordoch and Hall (2008). In a qualitative study, they describe how children and adolescents try to find a daily rhythm by first monitoring the parent's behaviors and moods, and then adjusting their own behaviors in response to their observations. At the same time, children and adolescents try to create an appropriate distance towards the parents to avoid being engulfed by the parental mental illness. In this long-term process children and adolescents preserved themselves partly by building their own identity and differentiating from their parents (Mordoch & Hall, 2008). Related to that, Kaimal and Beardslee (2010), in a study about the way emerging adults perceive parental depression, reveal five general perspectives: resistance and negativity (clustered as "self-oriented" perspectives), acceptance and compassion (clustered as "other-oriented" perspectives) and ambivalence. Furthermore, the transition paths between these perspectives are analyzed at the ages of 17, 18, and 19 years, revealing both changing and stable patterns (Kaimal & Beardslee, 2010).

A third theme that is critical in studies on the children's and adolescents' experiences of parental depression is sensitivity and caregiving. For a child, one particular way to go about adversity at home is active involvement in the family or in the parent's emotional life. Children might feel the vulnerabilities in their parent and try to act in a way that they cause the least trouble or actively contribute to the family (Earley & Cushway, 2002). This family process is referred to as parentification (Chase 1999; Jurkovic, 1997; Peris, Goecke-Morey, Cummings, & Emery, 2008). …

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