A qualitative investigation into the experience of parenting with a severe mental illness

  • Rebecca Murphy

Student thesis: Doctor of Clinical Psychology


This thesis explores the experience of parenting with severe mental illness, usingqualitative methodologies. It is presented in three parts: a literature review, a report ofthe empirical research, and a critical reflection of the process undertaken.The literature review provides both a systematic review of qualitative studies exploringthe experience of parenting with a severe mental illness (SMI), and a meta-synthesis ofthe findings from the included studies. The findings demonstrated six overarchingthemes that were central to the parents' experience. The themes were interlinked andoften conflictual in nature and a model of the relationship between the themes isprovided. The synthesis revealed how the additional and conflicting pressures faced byparents with SMI can interact with their symptoms to affect parenting behaviours anddecisions about engagement with services. The model of themes elicited by thesynthesis provides a broad conceptual framework in which parenting with SMI can beconsidered across the age range of children, parental symptoms and parenting roles.The empirical research provides a specific focus on the views and experiences of parentswith Bipolar Disorder (BD). Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used toexplore the lived experience of parenting with BD, to provide insight into the parents'perspective and the influence that this may have on outcomes for parents as well astheir children. The analysis resulted in six overarching themes, each of which consistedof a number of sub-themes. There were important interactions between the themesand these are illustrated for the reader. It was found that the parents identified anumber of challenges in being a parent with BD and experienced feelings of inadequacy,guilt and worry relating to the impact that their illness had on their children and family.Strategies for managing these feelings and limiting the impact of BD could have aninadvertent negative effect on their own well-being, and that of their child. Learning toaccept their diagnosis and developing strategies for managing their symptoms werecrucial for positive parenting, although the changing needs of their children oftenpresented new challenges. Contextual factors, including the stigma associated withmental illness, could also either mediate or exacerbate the challenge of parenting withBD. The clinical implications of these findings are discussed.The critical reflection provides a consideration of qualitative methodologies and apersonal reflection on the qualitative process in relation to the empirical research. Itdetails the critical debates around qualitative methodology, the application ofqualitative methodologies, and the challenges this presented for the researcher. Thereport was written on completion of the investigation and reflects the process by which,as a novice, the author was able to develop an understanding of qualitativemethodology and carry out an insightful piece of research.
Date of Award31 Dec 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRachel Calam (Supervisor) & Fiona Ulph (Supervisor)


  • Qualitative
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Parenting
  • Severe Mental Illness

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