Creating appreciation and community support for mothers caring for a child with an anxiety disorder

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Shaw, Kristi Lee
Author ORCID Profiles (clickable)
Master of Applied Practice
Unitec Institute of Technology
Bridgman, Geoffrey
Masters Dissertation
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
New Zealand
children with anxiety disorders
anxiety disorders
parental distress
medical treatments
community approaches
social connection
ANZSRC Field of Research Code (2020)
Shaw, K. L. (2021). Creating appreciation and community support for mothers caring for a child with an anxiety disorder. (Unpublished document submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Applied Practice (Social Practice)). Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand. Retrieved from
RESEARCH QUESTIONS: 1. What are the stories of parents’ lived experience caring for a child with an anxiety disorder; especially in relation to coping, stabilising factors, hopes for the future, and taking action? 2. What are the ideas for change that emerge from appreciative inquiry discussions and connection? 3. What kinds of actions can parents see themselves doing individually and/or collectively in the immediate future? ABSTRACT: This project examined a unique approach to anxiety disorder, one of the most prevalent and growing mental health concerns internationally. It uncovered the mostly invisible and challenging experiences of mothers caring for a child with an anxiety disorder and the value of their reciprocal relationships with their children for both their health and wellbeing. In addition, it explored social identity in making meaningful connection using a generative action-oriented social approach to address anxiety in the community. An Appreciative Inquiry, using social constructionist theory, and underpinned by elements of Kaupapa Māori values, was utilised to explore the research questions. The data was collected via paired interviews, focus groups and small questionnaires with three to four mothers, after which, thematic analysis was undertaken to identify important themes. There were four key themes discovered in the findings. (1) The mothers’ ongoing and challenging experiences of being silenced and isolated on the fringes, navigating the quagmire of social and institutional systems to help them help their children; (2) The mothers’ learning to cope by creating calm in the home, the child, and in themselves, often requiring them to ‘suspend’ their lives until their children become more independent; (3) The mothers employing a ‘Mother as Advocate’ identity to face the challenges, and co-creating a ‘Mother as Advocate’ group identity to continue to face those challenges to design a collective initiative; and (4) The value of freedom that the mothers experienced participating in the appreciative inquiry process with other mothers facing similar challenges and sharing their stories. This study demonstrates how appreciative inquiry is aligned with and supports the value of social identity theory and creating meaningful connections to help position and address anxiety disorder in the community. A key insight gained in this study is that our current social and institutional systems create disconnection in many facets of western life, which contribute to the generation and perpetuation of stigmatisation, isolation, and anxiety disorder. With a western capitalistic and individualistic culture, mental illness has become predominantly pathologized and medicated, positioning anxiety disorder within the child, and relegating the social dimension of the biopsychosocial approach as almost irrelevant. As mothers in this system spend valuable energy advocating for more support for their children, they put their own mental health at risk. There is no one solution; however, this study demonstrates that when mothers are supported through an appreciative inquiry process, strengthening their personal and social identities, health and wellbeing have the potential to increase for them, their children, and the community.
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