Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Communication Privacy Management Among Emerging Adult Children of Mothers with Depression

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Catherine Stein (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Ganming Liu (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Carolyn Tompsett (Committee Member)


Research on the mother-child relationship has often focused on the important socializing influence that maternal communication has on children’s attitudes, views, and behaviors. Few studies have considered the socializing influence of maternal communication on children’s understanding of mental illness. The present qualitative study examined the first-person accounts of 12 emerging adult children of mothers with major depressive disorder. Participants completed individual semi-structured interviews in which they recalled their mother’s communication about her depression when they were growing up, the impact that they believe maternal communication about depression has had on them, and their own approach to discussing their mother’s depression with others. Guided by principles of Communication Privacy Management Theory, thematic analytic techniques were used to describe participant accounts of maternal and personal approaches to concealment or disclosure of maternal depression. Emerging adults’ reasons for their mother’s concealment of her depression included a desire to protect her children and avoid social stigma while perceived reasons for mother’s disclosure of her depression included a desire to explain her behavior and seek support from her children. Participants described how maternal communication about depression affected their relationship with their mother, their sense of personal well-being, their understanding of depression, and their relationships with others. Emerging adults’ accounts suggest that their decisions about disclosing information about their mother’s depression stemmed from a desire to protect their mother’s privacy, to avoid family stigma, and to seek social support from other people. Implications of present findings for future research and family interventions are discussed.