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Failing to Meet the Good Parent Ideal: Self-Stigma in Parents of Children with Mental Health Disorders

Abstract

Self-stigma detracts from the wellbeing, self-esteem, and social connectedness of adults with mental health disorders. Although emerging research has indicated that self-stigma may have similar consequences for parents of children with mental health disorders, currently we lack a comprehensive description of how parents experience self-stigma. To address this, we investigated parents’ lived experiences of self-stigma using a descriptive qualitative approach. Directed by interview questions informed by a parent-based participatory action research group (n = 4), we conducted individual semi-structured interviews with 12 parents of children (aged 5–13) diagnosed with emotional and/or behavioural disorders. Data obtained from interviews with 11 mothers was coded and thematically analysed. Five themes were found: (1) the ‘good parent’ ideal, (2) awareness of external stigma, (3) outcomes of external stigma (social avoidance and self-doubt), (4) self-stigma (believing self-doubt and external stigma), and (5) refuting self-stigma. Our findings show that parents of children with mental health disorders experience self-stigma. However, because it leads to a diminished sense of being a good parent, the self-stigma is of a different type to that which has been described for adults with mental illness. This has important implications for the conceptualisation and assessment of parent self-stigma as research in this area moves forward.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to extend their sincerest gratitude to the parents who contributed to this research. The insight into your experiences is valued greatly.

Funding

This research was funded by the University of Western Australia.

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Correspondence to Kim Eaton.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Western Australia Human Research Ethics Office.

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Eaton, K., Ohan, J.L., Stritzke, W.G.K. et al. Failing to Meet the Good Parent Ideal: Self-Stigma in Parents of Children with Mental Health Disorders. J Child Fam Stud 25, 3109–3123 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-016-0459-9

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Keywords

  • Self-stigma
  • Stigma internalisation
  • Parent
  • Child
  • Mental illness
  • Blame
  • Shame