Kristen Burriel


Kristen Burriel is a senior social worker for more than 33 years and a current PhD candidate for the University of Wollongong. Kristen has been involved in policy/ research initiatives throughout her career; is the author of the supported playgroups named POPPY that assist mothers and their young children in several locations in Australia. Kristen has presented at national / international conferences with a prevention and early intervention focus and published a recent international journal article


What are the experiences of mothers with mental illness? Exploring mothers’ narratives from supported playgroups (Oral Paper Presentation)

The study explores the lived experiences of mothers with mental illness from their direct accounts attending supported playgroups (called POPPY). It is acknowledged in the literature that being a mother is challenging, specifically for those with mental illness. Little research has been done in this field from mothers’ perspectives in a natural setting like a playgroup.

Further positive parenting, attachment and healthy family relationships have been identified as protective factors for children and their healthy development, prevention and early intervention. This study aims to address this gap in the literature.

The PhD study used a qualitative design informed by an ecological systems model focused on the relationship between people and their environments, including social supports such as supported playgroups. The participant mothers were recruited from different locations where POPPY operates in NSW and the ACT. The study applied three different research tools including interviews with mothers, staff (n=21) and observations of playgroup sessions, to better understand the experiences of mothers, perceptions of staff and role of the playgroup context. The observations were based on Social Support Theory and included mothers and staff, with the aim of assisting with their mental health and interactions with the children in terms of the role of different types of social supports (perceived, enacted, emotional, informational and instrumental).

The study has identified themes of: complexity within mothers’ experiences (e.g. domestic violence), difficulties/ importance of social supports, and efficacy of working with mothers and young children to better support their relationships.

In summary the outcomes from this research study (sourced directly from service users and providers), demonstrates the benefits of attending the POPPY support programs. The study also highlights the potential for prevention and early intervention strategies that should inform policy, ongoing research and service delivery reforms to benefit the community’s wellbeing.

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