Identity in Recovery for Mothers With a Mental Illness: A Literature Review

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Abstract

Objective: The development of a positive identity beyond the mental illness has been highlighted as an important component of personal recovery. However, the experience of parenting is often overlooked in recovery discourse. This review aims to explore what the literature reveals about the process of developing a positive identity as part of personal recovery and how this may be shaped by the mothering role. Method: A systematic literature search of 5 databases resulted in 27 articles being reviewed, with findings extracted and analyzed using constant comparative analysis. Evidence on the construct and scope of identity in recovery for mothers with mental illness was critically analyzed in the context of a personal recovery conceptual framework. Results: The findings highlight that identity was rarely overtly defined in this literature, although the importance of motherhood was emphasized. Common barriers to uninterrupted and rewarding motherhood included illness and treatment, self-criticism, unsupportive families, discriminatory attitudes, and challenging relationships with children marred by intense and difficult emotions. The important role that psychiatric services can play but rarely do was a common finding. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: Personal recovery from mental illness is more effectively facilitated through supporting mothers to build positive, realistic, and diverse identities that allow them to acknowledge and respond to their mental health needs without fearing the loss of their parenting role or conforming to restrictive gendered stereotypes.

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