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Scand J Caring Sci. 2016 Sep;30(3):442-57. doi: 10.1111/scs.12285. Epub 2016 Jan 13.

Navigating in an unpredictable daily life: a metasynthesis on children's experiences living with a parent with severe mental illness.

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Department of Nursing, Faculty of Natural and Health Sciences, University of the Faroe Islands, Torshavn, The Faroe Islands.
Section of Nursing, Department of Public Health, Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.


A large group of individuals suffering from mental illness are parents living with their children. These children are invisible in the health care even though at risk for illhealth. The aim of this metasynthesis was to advance knowledge of how children of parents with mental illness experience their lives, thus contributing to the evidence of this phenomenon. The metasynthesis is following Sandelowski and Barroso's guidelines. Literature searches covering the years 2000 to 2013 resulted in 22 reports which were synthesised into the theme 'navigating in an unpredictable everyday life' and the metaphor compass. Children of parents with mental illness irrespective of age are responsible, loving and worrying children who want to do everything to help and support. Children feel shame when the parent behaves differently, and they conceal their family life being afraid of stigmatisation and bullying. When their parent becomes ill, they distance to protect themselves. The children cope through information, knowledge, frankness and trustful relationships. These children need support from healthcare services because they subjugate own needs in favour of the parental needs, they should be encouraged to talk about their family situation, and especially, young children should to be child-like, playing and seeing friends.


caring; children; concealing; coping; literature review; metasynthesis; parental mental illness; shame; stigma; systematic qualitative review

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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