Adult Sibling Stories of Parental Mental Distress
There is a limited body of research that focuses on the experiences of families of people with mental distress. While there is research regarding children’s experiences of parents with mental distress, there are few discourses about adults who have lived with a parent with mental distress. More specifically, there have been no studies which have looked at how adult siblings make sense of this experience together. Drawing on a family systems theory approach, the following study explored sibling stories of parental mental distress and the societal discourses that may have contributed to the adult siblings’ sense making. Employing a qualitative method, the study examined the accounts of four sibling pairs who were purposively recruited across England. Using narrative inquiry, the sibling pairs were interviewed at one time point, using a topic guide, which was developed to elicit narratives that were privileged and silenced. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analysed within a narrative analytic framework combining several different approaches. These stories were then situated within the local and broader socio-cultural contexts. The findings were presented through global impressions of the sibling narratives and then illustrated via a discussion of the similarities and differences across the collective storylines. The findings supported the identity construction of each sibling and the collective identities of the siblings in the context of parental experiences of mental distress. The findings suggested that there was a change in the siblings’ meaning making from childhood to adulthood. The findings highlighted that the siblings felt they had shared similar life events with each other, but their understanding and involvement had been different as young people which had been influenced by the positions and roles they had taken in the family in response to the parental experiences of mental distress. Factors that contributed to a positive or negative sibling relationship were acknowledged which included individual characteristics of the participants and communication styles. Communication was deemed an important factor in the context of parental experiences of mental distress. The findings were considered within the local and wider narratives, such as stigma related to mental distress, and within a family systems and structural theoretical approach. Implications for clinical practice were proposed at a clinician, systems, and societal level, with the strengths and limitations of the methodology, and directions for future research identified.
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