Barn till föräldrar med psykisk ohälsa : Barndom och uppväxtvillkor
Sammanfattning: The aim of this doctoral thesis is to – from a child perspective and with children as informants – describe and analyze childhood conditions for children whose parents suffer from severe mental illness. The method used is qualitative – 28 children, 10 boys and 18 girls, 7–18 years old, were interviewed about their parents’ mental disorder; the family situation and their own personal life – in school and during free time. The analyses are based on Sociology of Childhood and Family Sociology. Previous studies have, to a great extent, focused on the risk the children run of developing mental health- and social problems and what helps them to grow up healthy. The increased risk of mental health- and social problems has been well confirmed, but also that preventive interventions can contribute to resilience in the children. Although some studies have explored children’s experiences of their parents’ mental illness and the challenges they meet, research from a childhood perspective, has so far been scarce. The results of this study reveal different degrees of emotional, physical and social exposure for the children. Their childhood conditions were related to gender, relations, communication, problem load and social situation of the family. If the parent with a mental illness was a woman, the situation for the child was often more exposed than if it was the father – most likely due to parental roles and expectations on men and women in the Swedish society at that time. Girls seemed more emotionally involved in the parents’ problems than boys, especially if the parent with a mental illness was a father. Most of the parents were divorced or had never lived together. Parental conflicts complicated the life of the children, who were expected to have maintained relationships to both parents. Lack of communication about the parent’s mental disorder in - and outside the family - was common. The children were often uninformed about the parent’s problems. If hindered to pass information between and outside their two homes, they were left to handle difficult, sometimes dangerous, situations with the mentally ill parent, alone. The home was not always the safe place for rest and recovery, as homes are expected to be. The heavier the total problem load of the family, the more exposed was the child. Most exposed were children whose both parents had severe problems – mental illness or addiction. They were often placed in out of home care, for longer or shorter periods. The kind and degree of exposure the children experienced varied. Four kinds of childhood sceneries could be recognized: (1) the well organized childhood, where the parent’s mental health problem was mainly an emotional burden for the children; (2) the complicated childhood, where the parents conflicts and inability to protect the child made the child either too involved or too lonely in handling the problems that the parent’s mental illness caused them; (3) the problematic childhood where the parent’s mental illness was not the only problem in the family, but factors like the other parent’s drinking, siblings’ problems, social and economical difficulties added to the burden and (4) the exposed childhood where none of the parents was able to take care of the child. Knowledge and openness, about the parents’ problems, seemed to increase competence and decrease feelings of guilt and responsibility for the parent. All of the children stood forward, not as passive victims, but as competent agents in their own lives – although often more or less powerless because of their dependence of their parents and other adults around them. It was clear, though, that there is a need for professionals in adult psychiatry, social services, school and preschool, to pay attention to the children of parents with mental health problems and see to that they get the information and support they need. Keywords: Children, childhood conditions, children as agents, parental mental illness/mental disorders, mental health knowledge, exposed life situations, competence.
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