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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/24755

Title: "All in the Same Boat": An Analysis of a Support Group for Children of Parents with Mental Illnesses
Authors: Gladstone, Brenda McConnell
Advisor: McKeever, Patricia
Boydell, Katherine
Department: Dalla Lana School of Public Health
Keywords: mental health
parental mental illness
qualitative methods
critical dramaturgy
mental health services
support group
psychiatric disability
early intervention
discourse analysis
mental health literacy
Issue Date: 12-Aug-2010
Abstract: The effectiveness of psychoeducation and peer support programs for children of mentally ill parents is frequently measured by demonstrating children’s ability to meet program goals according to pre-defined categories determined by adults. Little is known about how children respond to these goals, whether they share them, and how, or if, their needs are met. I conducted an ethnographic study of one such group for school-aged children. I examined how specific discourses framed the content of the program manual designed to educate and support children and I observed how children responded to the program. My study is rooted in Goffman’s (1959) dramaturgical analyses of the reciprocal influence individuals have on one another in face-to-face encounters. From a critical dramaturgical perspective the participants were expected to conform to behavioural expectations of the setting, itself framed by broader arenas of interaction in which shared institutionalized meanings govern (often idealized) presentations of self. Data collection included: 1. a critical discourse analysis of the program manual; 2. participant observation of interactions during the eight-week program; and 3. children’s evaluations of the program in a separate group interview. Being identified as “as all in the same boat” was meaningful and consequential for children who were expected to learn mental health/illness information because, “knowledge is power”, and to express difficult feelings about being a child of a mentally ill parent. Children could be said to have achieved the goals of the program because they developed a mutual understanding about how to interpret and give meaning to their circumstances; “recognizing” unpredictable behaviours as signs of illness and becoming responsible for managing only how “their own story would go”. Children were not expected to care for ill parents, even when they wanted some responsibility, and were strongly discouraged from turning to friends for support. Children strategized to negotiate and resist group expectations and challenge assumptions about being “all in the same boat”. Suggestions are made for determining what constitutes “good” mental health literacy based on children’s preferences for explaining their circumstances in ways they find relevant and for supporting children’s competencies to manage relationships that are important to them.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/24755
Appears in Collections:Doctoral
Dalla Lana School of Public Health - Doctoral theses

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