Skip to main content

Young Adult Children of Mothers Coping with Mood Disorders: Maternal Relationship Quality, Family Stigma, and Psychological Well-Being


Family members frequently report experiencing social stigma due to their relationship to a loved one with mental illness. Adults’ perceptions of this family stigma have been linked to elevated feelings of distress and a lower quality of life. The present study examined the mediating roles of maternal responsibility and maternal regard in the relationship between perceived family stigma and psychological well-being among young adult children of mothers coping with mood disorders. A sample of 172 young adult children of mothers diagnosed with a mood disorder (123 women, 49 men; M = 23 years old; SD = 1.8) completed an online survey to assess feelings of maternal responsibility and regard, family stigma, and psychological well-being. Correlational results suggest that higher scores on maternal responsibility were generally associated with higher levels of family stigma. Maternal regard scores were generally associated with lower levels of family stigma and higher levels of psychological well-being. Young adults’ feelings of responsibility and regard in their relationship with their mother served a mediating role in relation to their reports of family stigma and psychological well-being. Mediation findings suggest that young adults’ reports of higher levels of maternal responsibility contributed to a greater sense of well-being in response to higher levels of family stigma. Additionally, young adults’ reduced feelings of maternal regard generally contributed to lower levels of well-being in response to higher levels of family stigma. Implications of findings for family research on social stigma and interventions for adult children of mothers with mood disorders are discussed.


  • Young adult children of mothers coping with mood disorders report experiencing family stigmatization due to mother’s mental health condition.

  • Feelings of responsibility and regard in young adults’ relationship with their mother were significantly related to their perceptions of family stigma and psychological well-being.

  • Young adults’ reports of maternal responsibility and maternal regard mediated the relationship between family stigma and psychological well-being.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Abraham, K. M., & Stein, C. H. (2010). Staying connected: Young adults’ felt obligation toward parents with and without mental illness. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(2), 125–134.

  2. Abraham, K. M., & Stein, C. H. (2013). When mom has a mental illness: Role reversal and psychosocial adjustment among emerging adults. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(6), 600–615.

  3. Aldridge, J. (2006). The experiences of children living with and caring for parents with mental illness. Child Abuse Review, 15(2), 79–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Arnett, J. J. (2007). Emerging adulthood: What is it, and what is it good for? Child Development Perspectives, 1(2), 68–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Banga, G., & Ghosh, S. (2016). The impact of affiliate stigma on the psychological well‐being of mothers of children with specific learning disabilities in India: The mediating role of subjective burden. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 30, 958–969.

  6. Bauer, R., Spiessl, H., & Helmbrecht, M. J. (2015). Burden, reward, and coping of adult offspring of patients with depression and bipolar disorder. International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, 3, 2

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. Beardslee, W. R., Gladstone, T. R. G., Wright, E. J., & Cooper, A. B. (2003). A family-based approach to the prevention of depressive symptoms in children at risk: Evidence of parental and child change. Pediatrics, 112(2), 119–131.

  8. Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T., & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon’s mechanical turk: A new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 3–5.

  9. Casler, K., Bickel, L., & Hackett, E. (2013). Separate but equal? A comparison of participants and data gathered via Amazon’s MTurk, social media, and face-to-face behavioral testing. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(6), 2156–2160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Champion, J. E., Jaser, S. S., Reeslund, K. L., Simmons, L., Potts, J. E., Shears, A. R., & Compas, B. E. (2009). Caretaking behaviors by adolescent children of mothers with and without a history of depression. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(2), 156–166.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. Clyburn, L. D., Stones, M. J., Hadjistavropoulos, T., & Tuokko, H. (2000). Predicting caregiver burden and depression in Alzheimer’s disease. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 55(1), S2–S13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Conger, R. D., Conger, K. J., & Martin, M. J. (2010). Socioeconomic status, family processes, and individual development. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 72(3), 685–704.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. Dam, K., & Hall, E. O. C. (2016). Navigating in an unpredictable daily life: A metasynthesis on children’s experiences living with a parent with severe mental illness. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 30(3), 442–457.

  14. Dam, K., Joensen, D. G., & Hall, E. O. C. (2018). Experiences of adults who as children lived with a parent experiencing mental illness in a small-scale society: a qualitative study. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 25(2), 78–87.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Doucette, S., Levy, A., Flowerdew, G., Horrocks, J., Grof, P., Ellenbogen, M., & Duffy, A. (2016). Early parent–child relationships and risk of mood disorder in a Canadian sample of offspring of a parent with bipolar disorder: Findings from a 16‐year prospective cohort study. Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 10(5), 381–389.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Evans, C., & McGaha, A. (1998). A survey of mental health consumers’ and family members’ involvement in advocacy. Community Mental Health Journal, 34(6), 615–623.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Farzand, M., & Baysen, E. (2018). Group differences on affiliate stigma experienced by family caregivers of psychiatric patients. Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, 52(5), 2403–2412.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Goodman, J. K., Cryder, C. E., & Cheema, A. (2013). Data collection in a flat world: The strengths and weaknesses of mechanical turk samples. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 26(3), 213–224.

  19. Guan, Z., Huang, C., Wiley, J. A., Sun, M., Bai, X., & Tang, S. (2020). Internalized stigma and its correlates among family caregivers of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia in Changsha, Hunan, China. Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 27(3), 224–236.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Hayes, A. F., & Rockwood, N. J. (2017). Regression-based statistical mediation and moderation analysis in clinical research: Observations, recommendations, and implementation. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 98, 39–57.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Hayes, A. F. (2018). Partial, conditional, and moderated moderated mediation: Quantification, inference, and interpretation. Communication Monographs, 85(1), 4–40.

  23. Hinshaw, S. P. (2018). The development of children when a parent experiences mental disorder: Stigma, communication, and humanization. Human Development, 61(2), 65–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Horstman, H. K., Hays, A., & Maliski, R. (2016). Parent–child interaction. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication, 1, 1–29.

  25. Koschade, J. E., & Lynd‐Stevenson, R. M. (2011). The stigma of having a parent with mental illness: Genetic attributions and associative stigma. Australian Journal of Psychology, 63(2), 93–99.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Larson, J. E., & Corrigan, P. (2008). The stigma of families with mental illness. Academic Psychiatry, 32(2), 87–91.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Lau, P., Hawes, D. J., Hunt, C., Frankland, A., Roberts, G., Wright, A., Costa, D. S. J., & Mitchell, P. B. (2018). Family environment and psychopathology in offspring of parents with bipolar disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 226, 12–20.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Lazarus, R. S. & Folkman S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Springer Publishing Company.

  29. Lee, S. K., Sim, J. H., Yoon, C. G., Kim, Y., & Yoon, J. H. (2020). Does suicidal ideation and depressive mood of parents affect their adolescent children’s mental health? Journal of Affective Disorders, 274, 768–773.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Montague, A. C., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2017). In it together: Exploring how belonging to a youth activist group enhances well-being. Journal of Community Psychology, 46(1), 23–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Mowbray, C. T., & Mowbray, O. P. (2006). Psychosocial outcomes of adult children of mothers with depression and bipolar disorder. Journal of Emotional & Behavioral Disorders, 14(3), 130–142.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Muralidharan, A., Lucksted, A., Medoff, D., Fang, L. J., & Dixon, L. (2016). Stigma: A unique source of distress for family members of individuals with mental illness. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 43(3), 484–493.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Murphy, G., Peters, K., Wilkes, L., & Jackson, D. (2014). A dynamic cycle of familial mental illness. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 35(12), 948–953.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. Pakenham, K. I. (2012). Caregiving tasks in caring for an adult with mental illness and associations with adjustment outcomes. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 19(2), 186–198.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. Park, K., & Seo, M. (2016). Care burden of parents of adult children with mental illness: The role of associative stigma. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 70, 159–164.

  36. Peisah, C., Brodaty, H., Luscombe, G., Kruk, J., & Anstey, K. (1999). The parent adult-child relationship questionnaire (PACQ): The assessment of the relationship of adult children to their parents. Aging & Mental Health, 3(1), 28–38.

  37. Peisah, C., Brodaty, H., Luscombe, G., & Anstey, K. J. (2004). Children of a cohort of depressed patients 25 years later: Psychopathology and relationships. Journal of Affective Disorders, 82(3), 385–394.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. Petrowski, C. E., & Stein, C. H. (2016). Young women’s accounts of caregiving, family relationships, and personal growth when mother has mental illness. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25(9), 2873–2884.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Pihkala, H., Sandlund, M., & Cederström, A. (2012). Children in Beardslee’s family intervention: Relieved by understanding of parental mental illness. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 58(6), 623–628.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Poynton, T. A., DeFouw, E. R., & Morizio, L. J. (2019). A systematic review of online response rates in four counseling journals. Journal of Counseling and Development, 97(1), 33–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Preacher, K. J., & Kelley, K. (2011). Effect size measures for mediation models: Quantitative strategies for communicating indirect effects. Psychological Methods, 16(2), 93–115.

  42. Quinn, D. M. & Chaudoir, S. R. (2015). Living with a concealable stigmatized identity: The impact of anticipated stigma, centrality, salience, and cultural stigma on psychological distress and health. Stigma and Health, 1(S), 35–59.

  43. Roper, S. W., Fife, S. T., & Seedall, R. B. (2020). The intergenerational effects of parental divorce on young adult relationships. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 61(4), 249–266.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1069–1081.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 719–727.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. H. (2006). Best news yet on the six-factor model of well-being. Social Science Research, 35(4), 1103–1119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Saeed, A., & Hanif, R. (2014). Effect of parental conditional regard on parent-adolescents relationship quality: Emotional state as moderator. Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research, 29(2), 315–331.

  48. Schleider, J. L., & Weisz, J. R. (2015). Using Mechanical Turk to study family processes and youth mental health: A test of feasibility. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(11), 3235–3246.

  49. Serewicz, M. C. M. (2013). Introducing the special issue on communication privacy management theory and family privacy regulation. Journal of Family Communication, 13(1), 2–5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Settineri, S., Rizzo, A., Liotta, M., & Mento, C. (2014). Caregiver’s burden and quality of life: Caring for physical and mental illness. International Journal of Psychological Research, 7(1), 30–39.

  51. Sommer, R. (1990). Family advocacy and the mental health system: The recent rise of the alliance for the mentally ill. Psychiatric Quarterly, 61(3), 205–221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Stein, C. H. (2009). “I owe it to them”: Understanding felt obligation toward parents in adulthood. In K. Shifren (Ed.), How caregiving affects development: Psychological implications for child, adolescent, and adult caregivers (p. 119–145). American Psychological Association.

  53. Stein, C. H., Gonzales, S. M., Walker, K., Benoit, M. F., & Russin, S. E. (2020). Self and sibling care attitudes, personal loss, and stress-related growth among siblings of adults with mental illness. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 90(6), 799–809.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Struening, E. L., Perlick, D. A., Link, B. G., Hellman, F., Herman, D., & Sirey, J. A. (2001). The extent to which caregivers believe most people devalue consumers and their families. Psychiatric Services, 52(12), 1633–1638.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. van der Sanden, R. M., Pryor, J. B., Stutterheim, S. E., Kok, G., & Bos, A. R. (2016). Stigma by association and family burden among family members of people with mental illness: The mediating role of coping. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51(9), 1233–1245.

  56. Williamson, T. J., Ostroff, J. S., Haque, N., Martin, C. M., Hamann, H. A., Banerjee, S. C., & Shen, M. J. (2020). Dispositional shame and guilt as predictors of depressive symptoms and anxiety among adults with lung cancer: The mediational role of internalized stigma. Stigma and Health, 5(4), 425–433.

  57. Yao, X., Wang, C., Zhu, Z., & Hui, J. (2020). Effects of biogenetic beliefs for schizophrenia on potential caregivers in China: Exploring the role of affiliate stigma. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 29(2), 161–170.

  58. Zhao, X., Lynch, J. G., & Chen, Q. (2010). Reconsidering Baron and Kenny: Myths and truths about mediation analysis. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 197–206.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kevin Walker.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Walker, K., Stein, C.H. Young Adult Children of Mothers Coping with Mood Disorders: Maternal Relationship Quality, Family Stigma, and Psychological Well-Being. J Child Fam Stud 30, 2440–2451 (2021).

Download citation


  • Young Adults
  • Maternal Relationship Quality
  • Social Stigma
  • Mood Disorders