‘Let’s talk, but not about that’: How parents who self-report as having had depression respond discursively to reading children’s picture books on parental depression
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Whether and how people talk about mental distress has been a focus of prominent public-health efforts designed to decrease stigmatizing of mental illness (e.g., Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign). In the context of parental depression, researchers have oriented to exploring the risks that such depression can pose for offspring. However, this discursive preoccupation with children’s vulnerability could work against public-health efforts to promote open discussion of parental depression. Given the public focus on increasing discussion about mental distress, I investigated the following question: How do individuals who have had depression while parents (regardless of whether formally or self-diagnosed) interact with, respond to, and evaluate their readings of parental depression in children’s books on the topic? To do so, I conducted interviews (two per participant) with 12 parents (4 fathers and 8 mothers; age range: 25¬¬¬¬¬¬-67 years; average age: 41.5 years) who experienced depression during parenthood. In each interview, parents read and responded to 1-2 children’s books with explicit themes of parental depression (3 books in total across interviews). I employed discourse analysis, focusing on how parents used language to structure their responses. Parents constructed sharing related to mental illness as valuable, to varying degrees, but also risky and requiring caution. Participants creatively mobilized discursive devices to re-frame silences in ways that resisted positioning the parent as “person who silences mental illness” and “parent who might place their offspring at risk through exposure to mental illness.” I contend that parents’ demonstrations of careful navigation of sharing and identity indicates how anti-stigma talk might be differentially accessible to certain populations, and I discuss the relevance of my analyses for public-health efforts, such as anti-stigma campaigns.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeBrenna, Beverley; Lovrod, Marie; Cummings, Jorden
Copyright DateSeptember 2020
sharing about mental distress