Emily Penner recently graduated with her honour’s degree in sociology from the University of Victoria. Her thesis was entitled, “The Children of Mentally Ill Parents: A Targeted Review of Literature.” I was fortunate enough to be in the audience when she reviewed her research and thought it would be a great addition to the site. Emily sent me the following as a summary of her fascinating research.

“The children of mentally ill parents are often overlooked in the area of mental health research, especially in terms of their subjective experiences and emotions, as well as their experiences of stigma. A review of the existing literature on the subjective experiences of children of mentally ill parents indicated that children strive to gather information about their parent’s illness, and play active roles in the maintenance of their family functioning. They also navigate the stigma of mental illness throughout their social lives, and struggle to connect with services that could support them in times of need.

An analysis of the existing literature suggested that children face systemic barriers to receiving much needed help. One barrier is our individualized approach to mental health care, which prevents mental health services from identifying and supporting patients’ children. Another barrier is children’s fear of being separated from their parents, which leads them to conceal their struggles rather than seek out help for themselves. Understanding these barriers is fundamental to our ability to help children through the difficulties of growing up with a mentally ill. A shift towards a more family-based approach to mental health care, as well as more integrated child support services would allow the needs of the ill individual and their children to be better served. Along with a reduction in the stigmatization and secrecy surrounding mental illness, children of mentally ill parents could suffer less in the future.”

Congratulations Emily and thanks so much for sharing your research! You are one student who has definitely made sociology matter.

Emily Penner

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