We seek to support Daughters and Sons as caregivers, advocates, and co-survivors of mental illness in their relationships with parents and the "health care" system. As Daughters and Sons reach the point where they are able view their parent from an adult perspective, they begin to seek out the types of support and education that established mental health advocacy organizations typically provide. Yet, by the time they reach these organizations they often have a lifetime of experiences that have gone unrecognized. Adult Daughters and Sons face stigma as a group, refered to as "damaged" or "hidden victims" and often seen through lenses of mental illness pathology, reinforcing the common fear of Daughters and Sons that mental illness is their destiny. 

As mental illness can occur across class, race and a wide variety of socioeconomic demographics, there is great variation in the experinces Daughters and Sons have in their relationships with their parent(s).  But, we have identified some commonalities among individual characteristics, challenges faced, and support needs sought after:  



Ambiguous Loss

Ambiguous Loss is a form of grief, which is common among Daughters and Sons.  It differs from bereavement, in that it doesn't provide a since of closure or understanding to the loss of a loved one.  It's impact on Daughters and Sons can occur at any stage in life.  Abiguous loss is defined as having two types:

  • Physical Absence, but Psychologically Present -  This may occur when a daughter/son has no contact with a birth parent. A daughter/son may have been removed from custody as a child, or a parent may be incarcerated, etc...
  • Psychological Absence, but Physically Present -  A parent may be present in a child's life, but may not be fully responsive to his/her needs due to symptoms of depression, anxiety, dementia, etc... 


  • Creative Orientation
  • Tolerance of Difference
  • Willingness to Challenge the Status Quo
  • Emotional Expressiveness
  • Sense of Humor


Transition to Adulthood

Daughters and Sons face a number of challenges as they transition to adulthood:
Identity Formation - As adolescents develop their unique identities, they often struggle with sharing familial experiences with new social communities in fear of stigmatising and discriminatory reactions.
Ill-Prepared for Adult Responsibilities - Childhood environment (foster care, domestic violence, obstacles to quality education, etc...) may not prepare D&S for pursuing higher education or entering the workforce
Mental Health Literacy - People who have a parent with mental illness may not have an adequate understanding of mental health issues, limiting their ability to express their experiences and needs.

Mental Health Services

Many Daughters and Sons have their own needs for mental health services and supports:
Unresolved Trauma/Grief - Daughters and Sons may need counseling to address unresolved trauma/grief associated with childhood experiences.
Mental Illness - Some individuals with a parent who has mental illness will acquire mental illness diagnoses, themselves.  There has been much research on the heritability of mental illness.  This research, however, has been written by and for academic researchers and has led to much confusion and misinformation among the public
Distrust of Mental Health Services - Having a parent, who did/has not received adequate mental health supports and services, can create a profound distrust of mental health professionals and services among those who have a parent with mental illness.  This can discourage them from seeking help themselves.


Daughters and Sons often serve as caregivers for their parents:
Younger Age - Daughters and Sons are likely to step into the caregiving role at younger ages (20s - 30s) than others who serve as caregivers for their aging parents.  This could lead them to deny themselves of career or social aspirations of others in their age group.  This may also lead to a lack of respect from mental health professionals, while trying to advocate for a parent's needs.
Legal Concerns - Like others who care for an aging or disabled family member, Daughters and Sons need to acquire knowledge on legal issues such as: Guardianship, Powers of Attorney, HIPAA, etc...

Support Needs:

  • Psychoeducation - There is a great need for psychoeducation programs, which are tailored to address experiences and perspectives specific to being a Daughter or Son.
  • Peer Support - Daughters and Sons need opportunities to interact, who experinced similar events and have similar support needs.
  • Mental Health Professionals - Mental health professionals need training to recognize and support the needs of persons with parents with mental illness.