There is a lot to it: being a mother and living with a mental illness

Dinali Perera, Liz Short, Sabin Fernbacher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Mothers living with mental illness face many challenges, and have needs that are not always well understood or met by services. Although research in this area has increased over the last decade, there is still scant understanding about mothers? specific experiences and needs in relation to motherhood. This paper aims to increase understanding about these experiences and needs. Methods: A qualitative grounded theory approach was used to generate rich knowledge and understanding about mothers with mental illness. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 8 mothers with mental illness and 11 staff members. This article presents a grounded theory analysis of the positive and challenging experiences of motherhood for women with mental illness. Results Mothers view motherhood as central and meaningful to their lives; a role that is highly valued and provides social connection. Further, supportive families shaped women?s experiences of motherhood and assisted in keeping them well. Mothers reported significant challenges associated with motherhood and their mental illness. These include the negative effects that mental illness can have on parenting, their children and on mother?child relationships. Mothers may experience feelings of guilt in relation to their children, low confidence in their ability to parent and concerns regarding custody loss. Conclusions This project highlights the complex experiences faced by mothers with mental illness and sheds light on why mothers require good support around parenting. Mental health services need to attempt to reorient their services to be more mindful of mothers? experiences, needs and support needs, specifically with regards to the role of parenting and living with mental illness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-181
Number of pages15
JournalAdvances in Mental Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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