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01-07-2013 | Original Paper | Uitgave 5/2013

Journal of Child and Family Studies 5/2013

Youth Mental Illness and the Family: Parents’ Loss and Grief

Journal of Child and Family Studies > Uitgave 5/2013
Meg Richardson, Vanessa Cobham, Brett McDermott, Judith Murray


Parents and family members whose adult child or relative has a mental illness endure significant losses, to which they respond with grief. Such grief may negatively affect family members’ physical and psychological health and also the relationship with their relative. Yet, research in this field is sparse. Very few studies have examined parents’ loss and grief in the context of the patient being a child or teen. It is not clear the extent to which parents’ loss and grief in response to their child or adolescent’s mental illness is similar or different to the accounts of older parents and family members caring for an adult relative with major psychopathology (e.g., Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder). Parental loss and grief is not often addressed in child and adolescent mental health services’ provision of care; alarmingly, little is known about how best to support parents who access these services. The present study aimed to bridge this knowledge gap and identify the therapeutic needs of this younger parent population. Comprehensive interviews were conducted with 14 parents and one custodial grandparent of a youth aged 18 years or younger who was currently attending a child and adolescent mental health service. An inductive thematic analysis identified six themes; parents’ narrative of finding out, profound and pervasive loss, complex grief, waning support, the challenges of caregiving and a call for assistance. It can be inferred from these results that youth mental illness can constitute a source of loss and grief for parents. Participants’ loss and grief was largely consistent with the experience of families caring for an adult relative with major psychopathology. Opportunities for mental health practitioners to support families’ loss and grief were identified. Further studies are needed to enhance understanding of this complex and, to a large extent, ignored familial experience. Results do underscore the importance of clinicians acknowledging parents’ loss and grief and working directly with this experience over the course of youths’ treatment, perhaps in conjunction with family psychoeducation approaches.

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