"In her shoes" : the experience of mothers living with mental illness : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Social Work at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This thesis presents a study of the views and experiences of a small group of New Zealand mothers living with mental illness. It is a qualitative study, the purpose of which is to explore the interface between parenting and mental illness through indepth interviews and to draw suggestions from these experiences for service development. Utilising a perspective which is influenced by a combination of recovery, feminist and Kaupapa Maori research philosophies, the intent of the study is to hear and reflect upon these stories through a collaborative process. The findings reveal similar themes to those from international studies. The participants emphasize the value of motherhood, seeing parenting as a tool for recovery and a way to increase self-esteem. Stigma and discrimination, especially self stigma, the internalised sets of beliefs about people experiencing mental illness, still affect women's lives, leading most of the participants to experience a pervasive fear around the loss of their children on account of their mental illness. Finally, mothers spoke of the stresses brought about by living in an environment often characterised by poverty and isolation. The main recommendations are for family-focused, community-based services which utilise early intervention approaches. The need for more extensive, flexible, practical support services and support for family/whanau are also highlighted. The role of trauma in the lives of the mothers interviewed and the need for access to appropriate treatment is emphasized. Finally, the lack of concrete data related to the numbers of parents living with mental illness is underlined and it is suggested that the latest mental health information system incorporate details about parenting arrangements. The findings of the research raise issues about the ability of present-day mental health services to fully meet the needs of families living with mental illness. Furthermore, it is argued that the compartmentalisation of mental health and child welfare services leads to a lack of a cohesive approach to the complexity of the lives of both parents and children in families with mental illness. In spite of less than optimum services, the strength and resilience of the mothers interviewed is a demonstration of the success of the recovery philosophy.