Resilience and Vulnerability: Adaptation in the Context of Childhood Adversities

By Suniya S. Luthar | Go to book overview

2
Young Children with Mentally Ill Parents
Resilient Developmental Systems

Ronald Seifer

Mental illness is a family matter. When one member has mental illness, it affects all others in the family. In their simplest forms, the distress and functional impairment of the ill family member are felt on a daily basis by others in the household – in ways that range from empathizing with the distress, to disruption of interpersonal relationships within the family, to compromised family functioning in which tasks of daily life are not accomplished. At a more complex level, when the mentally ill family member is a parent, there are well-established risks for the children in that family. Rates of mental illness are higher throughout the children's lifespan (particularly during the typical risk periods for mental illnesses), difficulties in school are more frequent, and problems in general social adjustment (such as delinquent behavior) are manifest. Still, the mechanisms by which this risk is manifest remain obscure.

In this chapter, I describe the current state of our knowledge regarding resilience in infants and young children who have a parent with mental illness. I begin by addressing some basic issues regarding how general models of resilience may be adapted to the particular circumstances of infants and toddlers. Following this, I summarize relevant research that may be interpreted in a resilience framework. I conclude with a summary model of processes identified to date in this population, along with some commentary on how well the resilience model will ultimately serve to aid understanding in this field.

This work was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health. Correspondence to Brown University, E. P. Bradley Hospital, 1011 Veterans Memorial Parkway, East Providence, RI 02915. E-mail to ronald seifer@brown.edu.

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