Academic journal article Family Relations

Exploring Parents' Self-Blame in Relation to Adolescents' Mental Disorders

Academic journal article Family Relations

Exploring Parents' Self-Blame in Relation to Adolescents' Mental Disorders

Article excerpt

This study examined whether parents of adolescents diagnosed with mental disorders self-blame for their child's disorders; their reasons for self-blame; and the relationships between parental self-blame and lower psychological well-being, perceived stigmatization, social support, potential hereditary factors related to adolescents' mental disorders, demographics, and youths' clinical characteristics. Analysis of qualitative and quantitative interview data was used to classify 68 parents as ''more" or ''less" (40%) inclined to self-blame. The most common reasons for parental self-blame included perceived (a) bad parenting, (b) ineffective oversight of child's mental health status, (c) passing on ''bad genes,'' and (d) negative family environment. Greater parental self-blame was related to parents' lower psychological well-being and associated with potential hereditary transmission, family support, and adolescents' clinical characteristics.

Key Words: adolescents, correlates, mental illness, parents, self-blame, well-being.

Scientific advances in the study of the genetic and neurological correlates of mental disorders have fueled some movement away from parentblaming theories popular prior to the "decades of the brain" (Austin & Carpenter, 2008; Healy, 2000; McKeever & Miller, 2004). Although biological explanations are not likely to fully replace psychosocial explanations of mental illness (Kendler, 2008), the current dominance of the biological discourse in psychiatry may be consequential for parents of children diagnosed with mental disorders, as the focus on biological and hereditary causal factors shifts the locus of control and responsibility away from parents (Meiser et al., 2007; Phelan, 2005). Indeed, some parents view the medicalization of behavior disorders as validating and legitimizing, resulting in less self-blame and guilt (Klasen, 2000; Meiser, Mitchell, McGirr, Van Herten, & Schofield, 2005). The desire to deflect blame for their children's psychopathology is considered one important motivation driving some parents to embrace neurological explanations for children's problems and to accept biological treatment (Hansen & Hansen, 2006; Litt, 2004; Singh, 2004).

At the same time, biological explanations are often perceived as incomplete by parents struggling to make sense of their child's mental disorders or diagnoses (e.g., attentiondeficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], depression, oppositional defiance), and develop some sense of social order and personal control (Marshall, Solomon, Steber, & Mannion, 2003; McConachie, 1994; Mickelson, Wroble, & Helgeson, 1999). Even when accepting the idea that their children's disorders have a biological underpinning, some parents continue to "self-blame," defined here as holding themselves responsible for causing, contributing to, or exacerbating their child's mental disorders with wrongdoings such as passing on "bad genes," failing to recognize problems earlier or secure effective services sooner, and for their sometimes unhelpful responses to their child such as frustration and anger (Blum, 2007; Fernandez & Arcia, 2004; Karp, 2001; Singh, 2004).

Moreover, parents of diagnosed children are sometimes regarded with suspicion for causing or worsening children's psychiatric problems by family, friends, spouses/partners, mental health professionals, and the community (E.D.Johnson, 2000; Marshall et al., 2003; Todd & Jones, 2003; Williams, 2006). Mothers, in particular, continue to be objects of scrutiny when trouble emerges in child functioning (Litt, 2004; Seipp & Johnston, 2005; Williams, 2006). Mother-blaming by others and mothers' own self-blame can easily be tied to culturally dominant narratives about the requirements for being a "good" mother, namely, patience, selfless devotion, and readiness to always protect and fight for their child (Blum, 2007; Malacrida, 2001; Singh, 2004; Williams, 2006).

Parental self-blame in relation to children's mental disorders has been studied in one of two ways. …

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