Title

When Mom has a Serious Mental Illness: The Mother-Young Adult Relationship, Caregiving, and Psychosocial Adjustment

Date of Award

2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Psychology/Clinical

First Advisor

Catherine Stein, PhD (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Robert Carels, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Michael Zickar, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Alfred DeMaris (Committee Member)

Abstract

This study compares the reports of 52 young adults with mothers with mental illness to reports of 64 young adults without mothers with mental illness. Young adults' perceptions of their relationships with their mothers, as defined by self-reported levels of affection, felt obligation, role reversal, and reciprocity, were examined in association with young adults' reports of caregiving for mothers and young adults' self-reported psychological adjustment. For young adults who reported a mother with mental illness, the assessed aspects of the young adult-mother relationship were examined in association with young adults' reports of personal growth. Findings indicated that maternal mental health status (i.e., having a mother with mental illness nor not) moderates the association between felt obligation and young adults' self-reported provision of caregiving for mothers. In general, for young adults who have a mother with mental illness, higher levels of felt obligation were associated with more caregiving for mothers. However, for young adults without mothers with mental illness there was no association between felt obligation and caregiving. Results also suggested that role reversal mediates the association between having a mother with mental illness and psychological symptoms, such that having a mother with mental illness was associated with higher levels of role reversal, which in turn was associated with higher levels of psychological symptoms. Findings regarding self-reported personal growth in young adults who had mothers with mental illness indicated that none of the assessed young adult-mother relationship factors were associated with self-reported personal growth. Findings are discussed in the context of a life course perspective that honors young adults' current life course stage, illustrates how a family member's mental illness can disrupt typical life course expectations, and highlights the association between disruptions to the life course and adverse psychological experiences. Implications for clinical and community practice as well as directions for future research are offered.