Table 2

Reported experiences of mental illness-based discrimination in relation to parenthood: illustrative examples
Themes and subthemes (themes in bold) Illustrative examplesa
1) People see me as an unfit parent ‘I have been made to feel inadequate as a parent.’
‘There's immediate suspicion from people you're not capable of looking after a child.’
‘The psychiatrist was talking about bringing in social services-that was unfair to assume I can't look after my children.’
People assume I am not safe or trustworthy ‘I'm classed as depressed so people won’t let me look after the children. I'm treated like a leper. They assume I'm unsafe or not trustworthy.’
Because of my mental illness social services thought I'd burnt my daughter but I hadn't.’
‘When my daughter was a toddler and fell off her space hopper onto a concrete floor, the hospital staff kept asking me 'all these questions', because I was 'a single mother and a mental health parent'. They put my daughter on the ‘at risk’ register and missed the fact that my daughter had a heart problem.’
They come in guns blazing ‘People watch me too closely.’
‘Social services are always involved, coming in guns blazing.’
‘I always feel that people are checking up on me and my children because of my diagnosis.’
‘I was kept in hospital for an extra week after having my children because the staff felt they needed to contact social services.’
I am judged ‘I feel people were judging me when I was pregnant and having my baby. The midwife for example seemed to jump to conclusions because of my diagnosis.’
‘My son has ADHD, when he's struggling, teachers immediately ask about my mental health and I feel I am being judged’.
‘I feel that other parents judge me.’
Others make decisions ‘My mum recently took my son to Sweden (which was good) but she didn't ask me, and I didn't know about it, and I'm his mother after all.’
‘They [social services] take your power to make decisions because they think you aren't thinking straight.’
2) People are not understanding or sympathetic ‘Mental health staff said I should pull myself together because I have a family’.
‘My daughter’s college made me feel like an irresponsible as they did not understand that I could not speak to them at that time.’
‘The school has not been sympathetic when my son is late to school or not handed things in (e.g. money).’
‘She was not understanding of my situation and was making inappropriate demands of me.’
3) I am stopped from having children ‘We were basically told don't even go there by the hospital and a psychiatrist and that we wouldn't be considered for adoption.’
A doctor advised me not to have children, it was the worst thing I could do.’
‘My family said I should never marry or have children.’
I am not helped to come off or change my medication to have children ‘Nobody wanted to help me to get off tablets to enable a pregnancy.’
‘I've been told I have to stay on the medication I've been given and also told that the medication causes birth defects’.
‘I can’t conceive because of medication.’
‘I have a fiancé and we would like to get married and have children but again the medication interferes and I don't want to have a disabled baby.’
I was told I wouldn’t be able to adopt ‘I have children and I'm trying to adopt another but mental health could be an issue apparently, even though I've got children of my own and brought them up.’
‘We considered adoption but I was told that with my mental health issues, it would be unlikely.’
They didn’t want to give me IVF ‘My fiancé could not have children so we looked into IVF. My doctor was funny about supporting me and discouraged me from having children.’
‘I've been told I'll find it hard to conceive because of my medical problems and mental health problems and that adoption/IVF treatment is out of the question.’
People discourage me from having children because they think I will relapse ‘I feel my psychiatrist is frightened I will become ill again.’
‘I can’t conceive because of my medication and I’m not able to have children because my illness would get worse.’
If I have a baby it would be taken away ‘I was told if I had a baby I would be taken.’
‘If I want a family I am likely not to be able to keep any children and am worried about it’
4) I am not allowed to see my children
My children have been taken away ‘My children have been taken away and I can't put my point across 'cause no one believes me.’
‘Police took my kids away from me when they were young.’
‘I had two babies, one was taken away.’
‘After my divorce my children were taken by my ex-husband one by one.’
I am not allowed to be alone with my child ‘I am not able to see my children unsupervised.’
‘I’m not allowed to have my children while my husbands at work.’
My ex-partner makes it difficult to see my child ‘I have access to my son but the mother has taken him to live in Glasgow-she knows it’s difficult for me to go on a train so I can’t see him very often.’
‘I gained access to my 10 year old son 3 or 4 weeks ago. My wife took him away from me 2 years ago because of my mental health.’
‘I have 4 children-they are very young. My ex wife doesn't want me to see them. I saw a solicitor but they said I had no chance. It’s unfair on me and the children.’
I am not allowed to be a grandparent ‘I am never allowed to babysit my grandchildren and I am very much withheld from seeing them.’
‘I’m not allowed to have my grandson on his own.’
I’ve had problems getting my children back ‘I put my children in voluntary care and now I’m having difficulty getting them back.’
‘I had to fight to get one back after hospital, it took about three months’
People used my mental health against me ‘Social services would take my baby away if I had another. They took my son at 4 months old, even though I was a good mother. They used my history of mental health against me.’
‘Social services have not given me a chance and are using my mental health problems against me.’
5) I am not getting the support I need ‘I have had no social services support in maintaining my family.’
‘I have had to accept that I will never have children, but there has been no support offered in dealing with this very difficult thing.’
‘I feel I'd have benefitted from a little more support. There's no back up if I can't take care of my children.’
6) My children are affected ‘When I was last ill I upset my son’s friend’s mother and he hasn't been invited to events because of that.’
‘My daughter was bullied a school because of my diagnosis.
7) My children avoid me ‘My daughter tended to avoid me and kept saying 'be happy'.’
‘They don't ring me or keep in touch, they just ignore me’
‘They don't involve me in any of their decisions and never ask me for advice/opinions any more.’
8) My children’s difficulties are blamed on my mental health ‘We're currently having problems with our 15 year old daughter and the social services say it's all because of my mental health-I feel they're saying it's my fault and that's unfair.’
‘If my son doesn't gain weight the health visitor thinks it’s due to my mental health.’
9) I am not listened to or taken seriously ‘I don't feel the school listens to us as parents. I'm asking for a dyslexia assessment for my child but the school think it's something to do with my mental health.’
‘When I discuss the problems about my children, the doctors don't listen to me as a parent, because of my mental health.’
‘When I try and reason with my ex husband he brings up my mental health.’
10) I am undermined as a parent ‘My diagnoses seem to get in the way of my rights as a parent.’
‘My ex-wife belittles me in front of children.’
‘My husband threatens to tell the children I am mad.’

a) Examples recorded in the third person have been amended to the first person for consistency of presentation.

Jeffery et al.

Jeffery et al. BMC Psychiatry 2013 13:120   doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-120

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