Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 9, pp 2966–2977 | Cite as

Parental Mental Illness and the Transition to College: Coping, Psychological Adjustment, and Parent–Child Relationships

  • Joseph M. MitchellEmail author
  • Kristen M. Abraham
Original Paper


Although research suggests that various familial factors and the parent–child relationship are important for the adjustment to college, less is known about how a parent with a mental illness impacts the challenges that accompany the transition to college. This mixed methods study examined differences among college students (N = 196, age range 18–30 years) with and without a parent with a mental illness with regard to general psychological adjustment, college adjustment, coping, and the parent–child relationship. Participants with a parent with a mental illness experienced higher levels of depression and anxiety when compared to emerging adults without a parent with mental illness. There was a marginally significant difference in the use of coping styles between emerging adults with and without a parent with a mental illness. Furthermore, participants with a parent with a mental illness experienced higher levels of homesickness and college negative affect compared to emerging adults without a parent with mental illness. Qualitative analyses comparing freshmen with and without a parent with a mental illness showed that freshmen with a parent with mental illness were more likely to describe familial homesickness as a problem in their transition to college. Freshmen with a father with a mental illness were less likely to describe their father as a positive influence on their college adjustment when compared to freshmen without a father with a mental illness. The findings further support the importance of investigating the influence of having a parent with a mental illness on the transition to college for research and clinical practice.


College adjustment Parental mental illness Coping Psychological adjustment Parent–child relationships 



We would like to thank Libby Blume for her feedback regarding study design, and Jazmin Y. Nevarez and Jace Paupert for their assistance with qualitative coding.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee at the University of Detroit Mercy and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Detroit MercyDetroitUSA

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