Parenting Challenges for Persons with a Serious Mental Illness

Reference work entry
Part of the Social Work book series (SOWO)


Up to a quarter of people with a lived experience of serious mental illness are parents. Parents with serious mental illness face considerable challenges managing the demands of their illness and day-to-day parenting roles and responsibilities. A lack of resources to cope with parenting tasks, stigma of mental illness, psychiatric symptoms, and side effects of medications can affect parenting abilities. In addition, psychosocial adversities including lower education and employment opportunities, due to the impact of mental illness and parenting duties, can negatively impact the quality of life of families affected by parental mental illness. Studies show that children affected by parental mental illness have a higher risk of developing emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems and sometimes take on caring responsibilities for their parents. It is increasingly recognized that family-focused support services are required to meet the needs of these families and that providing appropriate support can contribute to the recovery journey of parents with mental illness and well-being of the whole family.


Families Parenting Children of parents with mental illness Psychiatric illness 


  1. Afzelius M, Ostman M, Rastam M, Priebe G (2017) Parents in adult psychiatric care and their children: a call for more interagency collaboration with social services and child and adolescent psychiatry. Nord J Psychiatry 1–8.
  2. Berg-Nielsen TS, Wichstrom L (2012) The mental health of preschoolers in a Norwegian population-based study when their parents have symptoms of borderline, antisocial, and narcissistic personality disorders: at the mercy of unpredictability. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health 6:19. Scholar
  3. Boursnell M (2014) Assessing the capacity of parents with mental illness: parents with mental illness and risk. Int Soc Work 57:92–108. Scholar
  4. Butler H, Hare D, Walker S, Wieck A, Wittkowski A (2014) The acceptability and feasibility of the Baby Triple P Positive Parenging Progreamme on a mother and baby unit: Q-methodology with mothers with severe mental illness. Arch Women’s Ment Health 17(5):455–463Google Scholar
  5. Campbell L et al (2017) Severity of illness and adaptive functioning predict quality of care of children among parents with psychosis: a confirmatory factor analysis. Aust N Z J Psychiatry.
  6. Campbell L et al (2012) The experiences of Australian parents with psychosis: the second Australian national survey of psychosis. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 46:890–900. Scholar
  7. Chernomas W, Clarke D (2003) Social support and women living with serious mental illness. Project 23. Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence Winnipeg, Winnipeg. ISBN 0-9689692-4-9Google Scholar
  8. Coates D, Phelan R, Heap J, Howe D (2017) Being in a group with others who have mentall illness makes all the difference: The views and experiences of prents who attended a mental health parenting program. Child Youth Serv Rev 78:104–111Google Scholar
  9. Dolman C, Jones I, Howard L (2013) Pre-conception to parenting: a systematic review and meta-synthesis of the qualitative literature on motherhood for women with severe mental illness. Arch Womens Ment Health 16:173–196. Scholar
  10. Ennals P, Fossey EM, Harvey CA, Killackey E (2014) Postsecondary education: kindling opportunities for people with mental illness. Asia Pac Psychiatry 6:115–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Evenson E, Rhodes J, Feigenbaum J, Solly A (2008) The experiences of fathers with psychosis. J Ment Health 17:629–642CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gatsou L, Yates S, Goodrich N, Pearson D (2017) The challenges presented by parental mental illness and the potential of a whole-family intervention to improve outcomes for families. Child Fam Soc Work 22:388–397. Scholar
  13. Goodyear M, Hill T-L, Allchin B, McCormick F, Hine R, Cuff R, O’Hanlon B (2015) Standards of practice for the adult mental health workforce: meeting the needs of families where a parent has a mental illness. Int J Ment Health Nurs 24:169–180. Scholar
  14. Göpfert M, Webster J, Seeman M (2004) Parental psychiatric disorder: distressed parents and their families. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Green B, Furrer C, McAllister C (2007) How do relationships support parenting? Effects of attachment style and social support on parenting behavior in an at-risk population. Am J Community Psychol 40:96–108. Scholar
  16. Grové C, Melrose H, Reupert A, Maybery D, Morgan B (2015a) When your parent has a mental illness: children’s experiences of a psycho-educational intervention. Adv Ment Health 13:127–138. Scholar
  17. Grové C, Reupert A, Maybery D (2015b) Peer connections as an intervention with children of families where a parent has a mental illness: moving towards an understanding of the processes of change. Child Youth Serv Rev 48:177–185. Scholar
  18. Grové C, Reupert A, Maybery D (2016) The perspectives of young people of parents with a mental illness regarding preferred interventions and supports. J Child Fam Stud 25:3056–3065. Scholar
  19. Harvey C, Killackey E, Groves A, Herrman H (2012) A place to live: housing needs for people with psychotic disorders identified in the second Australian National Survey of Psychosis. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 46:840–850. Scholar
  20. Henshaw C et al (2011) Parents as patients: supporting the needs of patients who are parents and their children. Royal College of Psychiatrists, LondonGoogle Scholar
  21. Khalifeh H, Murgatroyd C, Freeman M, Johnson S, Killaspy H (2009) Home treatment as an alternative to hospital admission for mothers in a mental health crisis: a qualitative study. Psychiatr Serv 60:634–639. Scholar
  22. Howe D, Batchelor S, Bochynska K (2012) Prevalence of parents within an adult mental health service: census results 2008–2011. Australas Psychiatry 20:413–418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jeffery D, Clement S, Corker E, Howard LM, Murray J, Thornicroft G (2013) Discrimination in relation to parenthood reported by community psychiatric service users in the UK: a framework analysis. BMC Psychiatry 13:120. Scholar
  24. Kahng S, Oyserman D, Bybee D, Mowbray C (2008) Mothers with serious mental illness: when symptoms decline does parenting improve? J Fam Psychol 22:162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kaplan K, Solomon P, Salzer MS, Brusilovskiy E (2014) Assessing an Internet-based parenting intervention for mothers with a serious mental illness: a randomized controlled trial. Psychiatr Rehabil J 37:222–231. Scholar
  26. Lacey M, Paolini S, Hanlon MC, Melville J, Galletly C, Campbell LE (2015) Parents with serious mental illness: differences in internalised and externalised mental illness stigma and gender stigma between mothers and fathers. Psychiatry Res 225:723–733. Scholar
  27. Leijdesdorff S, van Doesum K, Popma A, Klaassen R, van Amelsvoort T (2017) Prevalence of psychopathology in children of parents with mental illness and/or addiction: an up to date narrative review. Curr Opin Psychiatry 30:312–317. Scholar
  28. Luciano A, Nicholson J, Meara E (2014) The economic status of parents with serious mental illness in the United States. Psychiatr Rehabil J 37:242–250. Scholar
  29. Marston N, Maybery D, Reupert A (2014) Empowering families where a parent has a mental illness: a preliminary evaluation of the ‘family focus’ DVD. Adv Ment Health 12:136–146. Scholar
  30. Maybery D, Reupert A, Goodyear M (2015) Goal setting in recovery: families where a parent has a mental illness or a dual diagnosis. Child Fam Soc Work 20:354–363. Scholar
  31. Mok PL et al (2016) Parental psychiatric disease and risks of attempted suicide and violent criminal offending in offspring: a Population-Based Cohort Study. JAMA Psychiatry 73:1015–1022. Scholar
  32. Montgomery P, Brown S, Forchuk C (2011) A comparison of individual and social vulnerabilities, health, and quality of life among Canadian women with mental diagnoses and young children. Women’s Health Issues 21:48–56. Scholar
  33. Montgomery P, Tompkins C, Forchuk C, French S (2006) Keeping close: mothering with serious mental illness. J Adv Nurs 54:20–28. Scholar
  34. Morgan VA et al (2011) People living with psychotic illness. Mental Health Publications, Canberra, p 2010Google Scholar
  35. Mowbray C, Bybee D, Hollingsworth L, Goodkind S, Oyserman D (2005) Living arrangements and social support: effects on the well-being of mothers with mental illness. Soc Work Res 29:41–55. Scholar
  36. Nelson G, Laurior W (2010) Housing for people with serious mental illness: approaches, evidence and transformative change. J Sociol Soc Welf 123:123–146Google Scholar
  37. Nicholson J, Biebel K, Katz-Leavy J, Williams V (2002) Center for Mental Health Services. Mental Health, United States. In: Manderscheid RW, Henderson MJ (eds) DHHS Pub No. (SMA) 3938. Rockville, Maryland: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Chapter 10, pp. 120–137Google Scholar
  38. Nicholson J, Hinden BR, Biebel K, Henry AD, Katz-Leavy J (2007) A qualitative study of programs for parents with serious mental illness and their children: building practice-based evidence. J Behav Health Serv Res 34:395–413CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Nilsson S, Gustafsson L, Nolbris MJ (2015) Young adults’ childhood experiences of support when living with a parent with a mental illness. J Child Health Care 19:444–453. Scholar
  40. Nyer M, Kasckow J, Fellows I, Lawrence E, Golshan S, Solorzano E, Zisook S (2010) The relationship of marital status and clinical characteristics in middle-aged and older patients with schizophrenia and depressive symptoms. Ann Clin Psychiatry 22:172–179Google Scholar
  41. Ostler T, Ackerson B (2009) Parental chronic mental illness. In: Benson MMHJB (ed) Diseases and disorders in infancy and early childhood. Academic, Amsterdam, pp 293–304Google Scholar
  42. Perera DN, Short L, Fernbacher S (2014) There is a lot to it: being a mother and living with a mental illness. Adv Ment Health 12:167–181. Scholar
  43. Pfeiffenberger AS, D’Souza AJ, Huthwaite MA, Romans SE (2016) The well-being of children of parents with a mental illness: the responsiveness of crisis mental health services in Wellington, New Zealand. Child Family Social Work 21:600–607. Scholar
  44. Poon WC, Lee C, Mark L (2014) An exploratory study of the profile and perceived needs of people with mental illness who are caring for young children in Singapore. Soc Work Ment Health 12:174–193. Scholar
  45. Power J, Cuff R, Jewell H, McIlwaine F, O’Neill I, U’Ren G (2015) Working in a family therapy setting with families where a parent has a mental illness: practice dilemmas and strategies. J Fam Ther 37:546–562. Scholar
  46. Power J, Goodyear M, Maybery D, Reupert A, O’Hanlon B, Cuff R, Perlesz A (2016) Family resilience in families where a parent has a mental illness. J Soc Work 16:66–82. Scholar
  47. Price-Robertson R, Reupert A, Maybery D (2015) Fathers’ experiences of mental illness stigma: scoping review and implications for prevention. Adv Ment Health 13:100–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rasic D, Hajek T, Alda M, Uher R (2014) Risk of mental illness in offspring of parents with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of family high-risk studies. Schizophr Bull 40:28–38. Scholar
  49. Reupert A, Maybery D (2014) Practitioners’ experiences of working with families with complex needs. J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs 21:642–651. Scholar
  50. Reupert A, Maybery D (2015) Stigma and families where a parent has a mental illness. In: Parental psychiatric disorder: distressed parents and their families. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 51–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Reupert A, Maybery D (2016) What do we know about families where parents have a mental illness? A systematic review. Child Youth Serv 37:98–111. Scholar
  52. Reupert A, Maybery D, Nicholson J (2015) Towards the development of a conceptual framework. In: Reupert A, Maybery D, Nicholson J, Seeman MV, Göpfert M (eds) Parental psychiatric disorder: distressed parents and their families, 3rd edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 1–15. Scholar
  53. Reupert A, Price-Robertson R, Maybery D (2017) Parenting as a focus of recovery: a systematic review of current practice. Psychiatric Rehabil J 39:1–9. Scholar
  54. Risley-Curtiss C, Stromwall L, Hunt DT, Teska J (2004) Identifying and reducing barriers to reunification for seriously mentally ill parents involved in child welfare cases. Fam Soc 85:107–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sadler MS, Meagor EL, Kaye KE (2012) Stereotypes of mental disorders differ in competence and warmth. Soc Sci Med 74:915–922CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sanders MR, Kirby JN, Tellegen CL, Day JJ (2014) The Triple P-Positive Parenting Program: a systematic review and meta-analysis of a multi-level system of parenting support, Clin Psychol Rev 34(4):337–357Google Scholar
  57. Savvidou I, Bozikas V, Hatzigeleki S, Karavatos A (2003) Narratives about their children by mothers hospitalized on a psychiatric unit. Fam Process 42:391–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schmidt L, Monaghan J (2012) Intensive family support services: a consultative model of education and support. Am J Psychiatr Rehabil 15:26–43. Scholar
  59. Schrank B, Moran K, Borghi C, Priebe S (2015) How to support patients with severe mental illness in their parenting role with children aged over 1 year? A systematic review of interventions. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 50:1765–1783. Scholar
  60. Seeman M (2010) Parenting issues in mothers with schizophrenia. Curr Women’s Health Rev 6:51–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Seeman M (2012) Intervention to prevent child custody loss in mothers with Schizophrenia. Schizophr Res Treat 1–6.
  62. Shor R, Kalivatz Z, Amir Y, Aldor R, Lipot M (2015) Therapeutic factors in a group for parents with mental illness. Community Ment Health J 51:79–84. Scholar
  63. Stambaugh LF, Forman-Hoffman V, Williams J, Pemberton MR, Ringeisen H, Hedden SL, Bose J (2017) Prevalence of serious mental illness among parents in the United States: results from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 2008–2014. Ann Epidemiol 27:222–224. Scholar
  64. Stanbridge R, Burbach F (2007) Developing family-inclusive mainstream mental health services. J Fam Ther 29:21–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Thanhäuser M, Lemmer G, de Girolamo G, Christiansen H (2017) Do preventive interventions for children of mentally ill parents work? Results of a systematic review and meta-analysis. Curr Opin Psychiatry 30:283–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Thomas L, Kalucy R (2003) Parents with mental illness: lacking motivation to parent. Int J Ment Health Nurs 12:153–157. Scholar
  67. Trondsen MV, Tjora A (2014) Communal normalization in an online self-help group for adolescents with a mentally ill parent. Qual Health Res 24:1407–1417. Scholar
  68. van der Ende PC, van Busschbach JT, Nicholson J, Korevaar EL, van Weeghel J (2016) Strategies for parenting by mothers and fathers with a mental illness. J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs 23:86–97. Scholar
  69. Vigod S, Dennis C, Kurdyak P, Cairney J, Guttmann A, Taylor V (2014) Fertility rate trends among adolescent girls with major mental illness: a Population-Based Study. Pediatrics 133:e585–e591. Scholar
  70. Waghorn G et al (2012) ‘Earning and learning’ in those with psychotic disorders: the second Australian national survey of psychosis. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 46:774–785. Scholar
  71. Wansink HJ, Janssens JMAM, Hoencamp E, Middelkoop BJC, Hosman CMH (2015) Effects of preventive family service coordination for parents with mental illnesses and their children, a RCT. Fam Syst Health 33:110–119. Scholar
  72. Westad C, McConnell D (2012) Child welfare involvement of mothers with mental health issues. Community Ment Health J 48:29–37. Scholar
  73. Widemalm M, Hjärthag F (2015) The forum as a friend: parental mental illness and communication on open Internet forums. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 50:1601–1607. Scholar
  74. Wolpert M, Hoffman J, Martin A, Fagin L, Cooklin A (2015) An exploration of the experience of attending the Kidstime programme for children with parents with enduring mental health issues: Parents’ and young people’s views. Clin Child Psychol Psychiat 2(3):406–418Google Scholar
  75. Zipursky R, Reilly T, Murray R (2013) The myth of schizophrenia as a progressive brain disease. Schizophr Bull 39:1363–1372. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  2. 2.School of Social SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations