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Open Access Research article

Discrimination in relation to parenthood reported by community psychiatric service users in the UK: a framework analysis

Debra Jeffery1, Sarah Clement12*, Elizabeth Corker1, Louise M Howard1, Joanna Murray1 and Graham Thornicroft1

Author Affiliations

1 Health Service and Population Research Department, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK

2 Section of Community Mental Health, PO29, Health Service and Population Research Department, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK

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BMC Psychiatry 2013, 13:120  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-120

Published: 20 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Experienced discrimination refers to an individual’s perception that they have been treated unfairly due to an attribute and is an important recent focus within stigma research. A significant proportion of mental health service users report experiencing mental illness-based discrimination in relation to parenthood. Existing studies in this area have not gone beyond prevalence, therefore little is known about the nature of experienced discrimination in relation to parenthood, and how is it constituted. This study aims to generate a typology of community psychiatric service users’ reports of mental illness-based discrimination in relation to becoming or being a parent. A secondary aim is to assess the prevalence of these types of experienced discrimination.

Methods

In a telephone survey 2026 community psychiatric service users in ten UK Mental Health service provider organisations (Trusts) were asked about discrimination experienced in the previous 12 months using the Discrimination and Stigma Scale (DISC). The sample were asked if, due to their mental health problem, they had been treated unfairly in starting a family, or in their role as a parent, and gave examples of this. Prevalence is reported and the examples of experienced discrimination in relation to parenthood were analysed using the framework method of qualitative analysis.

Results

Three hundred and four participants (73% female) reported experienced discrimination, with prevalences of 22.5% and 28.3% for starting a family and for the parenting role respectively. Participants gave 89 examples of discrimination about starting a family and 228 about parenting, and these occurred in social and professional contexts. Ten themes were identified. These related to being seen as an unfit parent; people not being understanding; being stopped from having children; not being allowed to see their children; not getting the support needed; children being affected; children avoiding their parents; children’s difficulties being blamed on the parent’s mental health problem; not being listened to; and being undermined as a parent.

Conclusions

This research highlights the need for: greater support for parents with mental illness, those wishing to have children, and those who lose access or custody; services to better meet the needs of children with a mentally ill parent; training about discrimination for professionals; and parenting issues to be included in anti-stigma programmes.

Keywords:
Discrimination; Stigma; Pregnancy; Parenting; Mental disorders; Mothers; Fathers