Parental support for young people with mental illness: Bringing together the perspectives of young people and their parents (2008-2011)

Project team

Dr Anne Honey


Mental illness accounts for 61% of the non-fatal burden of disease for young Australians and is more prevalent amongst young adults than in any other age group. Many of the young people affected live with their parents and evidence suggests that parents can play an important part in their lives and in the course of their illness. Yet little is known about the help and support parents provide, such as the strategies they use, how these evolve, which are found to be effective under what circumstances, and how parents' efforts are perceived by young people themselves. This study addresses these issues using well-established and rigorous qualitative methods - in-depth interviews, narrative analysis and typological description. The outcome will be a conceptual framework explaining parental involvement for use in future research and clinical practice.

The aims of the study are:

  1. To explore parents' perspectives on their caregiving activities.
  2. To explore young people's perspectives on their parents' caregiving activities.
  3. To identify patterns of parent involvement.
  4. To identify individual, family and contextual factors associated with different patterns of parent involvement.


This study will include 30 young people (15-24 years old) who have a recently diagnosed mental illness (within 2 years) and their parents as matched dyads or triads. In-depth qualitative interviews will be used to explore how participants understand their experiences and reconstruct events in their lives.

Each interview will be summarised into an individual narrative, producing an integrated story or case study for each participant which links past events together to account for how the present situation developed. Narratives will be compared within each group (young people and their parents) to identify commonalities, differences and one or more common story that epitomizes the experience of all or subgroups of participants. Next, the narratives of dyads/triads will be integrated and compared to develop family case studies, which will highlight the different perspectives and interests of parents and young people and the areas of similarity and difference between their stories. These family case studies will be analysed using holistic reading, between case comparison and typological description. Pathways and contextual factors associated with the different outcomes will be examined and a typology of family case studies will be developed. Patterns of similarity and difference will be identified both within and between typologies and a conceptual framework will be developed to explain parental involvement.

Anticipated outcomes

This study will: (1) generate empirical data on how parents support young people with mental illness; (2) generate empirical data about how young people perceive and respond to parental support; (3) identify a range of patterns of parental involvement in families in which a young person has a mental illness; (4) provide preliminary explanations of the factors leading to different parental involvement patterns and the implications of these patterns for young people and family life. The findings will be used to develop a model for assessing parental involvement and preliminary guidelines for parents of young people with mental illness.

Progress to date

As at 2 March, 2010 we have interviewed a total of 57 people for this project, including 22 match dyads/triads, 4 additional young people and 2 additional parents. Data collection has been suspended and data analysis is currently underway.

For further information about this research project please contact Anne Honey on:

p: 02 9351 9370