Children's and parents'/carers' perceptions of mental health and stigma
This study examined the perceptions of mental health and stigma in young children with emerging mental health problems, and those of their parents or carers. The study's objective was to gain some understanding of the context and impact of stigma on children and their parents/carers, and to determine factors which could contribute to service improvement and policies to tackle stigma. A qualitative design, using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, was undertaken to explore children's and their parents'/carers' perceptions of mental health, children's mental health services and the stigma attached. Semi-structured interviews, using a specifically designed storybook technique, were conducted with 20 children, aged 5 to 11 years, who had been referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for the first time. In addition, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with their parents or carers (n=23). The study found that young children and their parents/carers have sophisticated and complex perceptions of mental health and the stigma attached. However, the findings show that understanding of the definition of mental health is not salient, and that participants experience the discriminatory effects of the stigmatisation process. The effects of stigma are communicated within the parent/carer-child dyad, which serves to contribute to perceptions of shame, blame and being different held by children and parents/carers. Participants also have preconceived ideas about mental health and children's mental health services, which contribute to the stigmatisation process. In turn, this affects help-seeking and can contribute to the severity of children's mental health problems.