Grief experiences in parents of adult children with serious mental illness

Anne M. Williams-Wengerd, Catherine Solheim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Because of systemic changes in mental health treatment since deinstitutionalization, parents have taken on more involved roles for their children with serious mental illness (SMI), even when their children have reached young adulthood. However, the changes in parental roles and relationships with their adult children with SMI, and the grief that stems from those changes, have not been adequately reflected in research or treatment interventions. Studies primarily focus on individual perspectives and neglect the relational nature of grief within a family. The absence of a family perspective in treatment systems leave parents to navigate grief and loss on their own. In this article, we systematically review 12 papers on the grief experiences of parents of an adult child with SMI. Through a thematic analysis of the findings it becomes clear that there is a need for employing a family theoretical perspective to address the inherent relational nature of grief. Ambiguous loss theory provides a relationally grounded model which expands our understanding of parents' grief and gives direction for more effective interventions for families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Family Theory and Review
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Council for Family Relations.


  • adult children
  • grief
  • parents
  • serious mental illness


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