Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

Balancing Mothering and Mental Health Recovery: The Voices of Mothers Living with Mental Illness

Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

Balancing Mothering and Mental Health Recovery: The Voices of Mothers Living with Mental Illness

Article excerpt


Around the world, women are recovering from mental illness while caring for dependent children. Around 23% of all Australian children live with a parent who experiences mental illness (Maybery, Reupert, Patrick, Goodyear, & Crase, 2009). Mothers recovering from mental illness have consistently reported that motherhood is a valued role and that children are a source of motivation for recovery (Dolman, Jones, & Howard, 2013; Perera, Short, & Fernbacher, 2014b). However, at the same time, mothers find balancing their children's need with their own recovery needs challenging, and see mothering and mental illness as presenting competing demands (Diaz-Caneja & Johnson, 2004; Nicholson, Sweeney, & Geller, 1998; Tjoflåt & Ramvi, 2013).

The stress and responsibility of caring for a dependent child and the valid fear of losing custody of their child can negatively influence mothers' mental health (Dolman et al., 2013; Perera et al., 2014b; Venkataraman & Ackerson, 2008). Mothers also worry that mental illness may negatively influence their parenting capacity and thus the well-being of their children. Concerns include: difficulty being psychologically present with their child; the child taking on carer responsibilities; being permissive when disciplining children, and being unable to care for children during acute episodes of illness (Ackerson, 2003; Montgomery, Mossey, Bailey, & Forchuk, 2011). There is a plethora of quantitative research evidencing the potential negative influence mental illness can have on mothering and the child (e.g. Miklush & Connelly, 2013; Wachs, Black, & Engle, 2009).

Given the unique challenges mothers living with mental illness experience, support for the integrated demands of mothering and recovery is critical. This has been recognised in policy and practice guidelines nationally and internationally (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013; Department of Health, 2011; Goodyear et al., 2015). In practice, however, social supports and mental health services rarely address both parenting and mental health support needs (Diaz-Caneja & Johnson, 2004; Perera, Short, & Fernbacher, 2014a, 2014b). Researchers and mothers themselves have described motherhood as a 'forgotten' or 'silent' role that is seldom recognised or considered by mental health services (BendersHadi, Barber, & Alexander, 2013; Boursnell, 2007; Dolman et al., 2013).

For mental health and parenting services to better support mothers living with mental illness, an understanding of their experiences is critical. While literature exists, including the research described above, it is almost exclusively focused on identifying deficits and difficulties. Yet, many mothers are able to cope with these issues (Maybery et al., 2009). Both service providers and other mothers will benefit from learning about mothers' perspectives on the strategies they use to balance mothering and mental health recovery.

A few qualitative studies have made peripheral mention of strategies employed by mothers living with mental illness. Some studies have identified that mothers use strategies to cope without elucidating the nature of these strategies (Boursnell, 2007; Soares & Carvalho, 2009). Other studies have briefly described some parenting and/or mental health strategies, including placing the needs of children first, self-regulating their emotions when parenting, talking to their children about mental health and seeking help (Tjoflåt & Ramvi, 2013; Venkataraman & Ackerson, 2008; Williams, 2013; Wilson & Crowe, 2009). One recent study reported several strategies for successful parenting: dedication to the parenting role, the balance of raising children and time for oneself, using the parental role as a road to recovery, and requesting support (Van Der Ende, Van Busschbach, Nicholson, Korevaar, & Van Weeghel, 2016). However, balancing strategies were not elaborated and the focus was on challenges and supports provided rather than active strategies mothers employed. …

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