More than half of all mothers living with schizophrenia will end up losing custody of their children, either to foster care or adoptions – something Amanda Mihalicz has experience with as an adult adoptee.
“When I was two and a half years old I was separated from my birth family, including from my birth mother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia,” says Mihalicz, an experienced social worker and graduate student in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Regina.
Mihalicz’s personal connection to this social issue fuels her interest and motivation to explore, thirty years after her own adoption, whether society has made advancements in supporting families impacted by schizophrenia.
Currently, there is a lack of information focusing on how to best support this population of women in Canada, while the majority of literature that does exist focuses on the deficits of these mothers' parenting abilities.
Mihalicz says understanding the lived experiences of mothers living with schizophrenia is vital to truly grasping what they need.
“In Saskatchewan, there are gaps in the care provided by family services, health care, and community programs,” says Mihalicz.
Having spent years as a frontline social worker, Mihalicz has also seen firsthand the stigma surrounding mental illness, particularly toward mothers living with schizophrenia.
“There are a lot of different connotations that come to mind when we hear the word schizophrenia, and it’s often negative or fear-related,” she says.
That’s why Mihalicz says it's imperative to address the stigma related to parenting while living with mental illness, and allow clients to lead the research based on outcomes that will strengthen the individual’s future.
Mihalicz says by empowering these women to share their lived experiences, society will better understand their maternal strengths so that enhanced services can be provided to this vulnerable population.
“We don’t often hear their stories or have the opportunity to learn directly from them,” she says.
By collaborating directly with women living with schizophrenia, Mihalicz says she hopes to get a better understanding of how they can best be supported by frontline workers, as the majority of professionals serving these mothers are trained social workers.
“Many times, services exist in silos, which results in programs that don’t link together in ways that would best support these women,” Mihalicz says.
“This really points to people wanting to open up and not keep their mental health challenges a secret. It also shows me that in our society we can definitely do better at having these types of conversations."
Mihalicz aims to help create better understanding about the factors that impact the ability of mothers living with schizophrenia to parent, while also highlighting best practices and policy recommendations within the social work framework.
She is currently in the process of connecting with different agencies in the community, along with psychiatrists, case managers, and social workers to start working directly with mothers living with schizophrenia.
When speaking about her research with family, friends, and colleagues, Mihalicz says she is moved by how positive people are, and finds it interesting that once she is talking about it, people start openly sharing about their lived experiences with mental illness.
“This really points to people wanting to open up and not keep their mental health challenges a secret. It also shows me that in our society we can definitely do better at having these types of conversations,” says Mihalicz.
Through her research, Mihalicz hopes to inspire more people to open up and have discussions about mental health and wellness.
“The more we talk, the more we can reduce stigma, and the more we can positively impact those who live with mental illness.”