Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

Parental Influence on the Mental Health-Related Behaviour of Young People with Mental Illness: Young People's Perceptions

Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

Parental Influence on the Mental Health-Related Behaviour of Young People with Mental Illness: Young People's Perceptions

Article excerpt

The support parents provide for young people who develop mental illness is of critical importance. Internationally, around three quar- ters of all lifetime mental disorders begin by the mid-20s (Kessler et al., 2007). Youth mental health is a significant concern in Australia, with mental disorders accounting for 61% of the non-fatal burden of disease for this age group (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007). An increasing majority of young people remain living in the parental home until at least 24 years of age (Australian Government Office for Youth, 2009), thus parents are likely to play an important part in the lives of many young people with mental illness. Indeed, the importance of parents and other carers and the need to appropri- ately support them is increasingly being acknowl- edged in mental health policy (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009).

One of the highest priority needs identified by carers of people with mental illness is the need for knowledge and information, including advice about strategies to use (Mental Health Council of Australia, 2010). Interventions have been developed to provide families with such information and support (Lock & Le Grange, 2005; Lucksted, McFarlane, Downing, Dixon, & Adams, 2012) and research has found these, along with a diverse range of other fam- ily interventions to be helpful for people with mental illness, particularly in reducing symp- toms and relapse. However, the critical compo- nents of family treatments and the mechanisms through which they work are unclear (Diamond & Josephson, 2005; Kazdin & Nock, 2003). Understanding the things parents do to try to assist young people with mental illness and how these strategies affect young people, is one way to begin to unravel the link between family interventions and outcomes.


Research on the experiences of parents who have a young adult son or daughter with mental illness has shown that, along with providing emotional and practical support, these parents also see influ- encing the young person's mental health-related behaviour as an important part of their role. This includes encouraging behaviour they believe to be beneficial for the young person and their mental health, such as attending and complying with treatment, eating and exercising well, and engaging in positive social behaviour and age- appropriate activities like attending school or work. Parents also seek to prevent behaviour they see as detrimental to mental health and well-being, such as self-harm, drug consumption, and socially isolating, aggressive or criminal behaviour. They report using a variety of strategies to achieve their aims including: Praising and rewarding desirable behaviour; reasoning and rational argument; per- suading, coaxing and cajoling; overt monitoring; using parental authority; threatening; and even force (e.g., Honey & Halse, 2005; Honey, Alchin, & Hancock, in press; Milliken & Rodney, 2003; Sin, Moone, & Wellman, 2005). To date, evi- dence is lacking as to the impact of these strategies on young people. Listening to young people's own perspectives is an important aspect of understand- ing this impact.


Given the developmental tasks of adolescence and young adulthood, particularly the attainment of autonomy, parents' influence on young people's behaviour is likely to be a salient issue for young people with mental illness. For typical adolescents and those with health conditions, adolescence is usually characterised by decreased parental super- vision and involvement in health care (Gondoli, 1999; Sawyer & Aroni, 2005). Yet parents retain a degree of authority, particularly while the young person is financially dependent, which makes the dynamics of providing support for health care unique to the parent-young person relation- ship. …

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