Parenting and Serious Mental Illness: Partnering as Parents to Encourage Hope

Joanne Nicholson and Anne Whitman have been working together for nearly 25 years to shape the agenda for parents living with mental health conditions – in policy, practice, research and daily life. Using video clips of parents discussing key issues and their impact, Nicholson and Whitman will highlight implications for practice and peer support. In an interactive format, they will ask and answer questions posed by their teams as well as respond to audience chat, to frame challenges and offer solutions for parents, supportive others, and the practitioners who partner with them.

Joanne Nicholson, Ph.D., is Professor in the Institute for Behavioral Health at Brandeis University and a clinical and research psychologist with over 25 years of experience working with parents with serious mental illnesses, co-occurring substance use and their families. She has an active program of research on parents and their children, in partnership with people in recovery. She and her collaborators have developed rehabilitation education and training programs and materials for parents, integrating the current knowledge on parents with serious mental illnesses and evaluating interventions for families, including the state-wide ParentingWell initiative in Massachusetts. Dr. Nicholson is currently Co-Investigator for the NIDILRR-funded INROADS project, focusing on treatment needs, access and outcomes for individuals living with disabilities and OUD, and Co-Principal Investigator for the NIDILRR-funded National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities. She is Principal Investigator for the PCORI-funded Creating a Community with Mothers with Mental Illness Using Opioids, and research lead for the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative (, with over 33,000 Facebook followers. Nicholson and her colleagues published the first guide for parents living with mental illness written by parents, Parenting Well When You’re Depressed and a guide for professionals written by professionals, Creating Options for Family Recovery: A Provider’s Guide to Promoting Parental Mental Health. She has published over 100 papers and original articles in professional journals and edited volumes, as well as provided interviews for newspapers, magazines and radio in the U.S. and other countries, and has been an invited contributor to the Huffington Post.

Anne Whitman is a person with lived experience with mental health and substance use challenges. She has been given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and has been in recovery for over 30 years. She is the parent of a 36 year old daughter, She has over 30 years of experience in starting, supporting, and guiding peer communities in providing mutual support while maintaining the core values of empathy and resiliency. She is a co-founder of the Metro Boston Recovery Learning Community located at Boston Medical Center and co-founder of the Cole Resource Center located on the grounds of Mclean Hospital. Anne is a consultant to the Southeast Recovery Learning Community of Massachusetts.  She is also a consultant to the Center of Excellence in Psychosocial and Systemic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital where she worked with a team on peer consultants and staff to create a video for parents with mental health and substance use challenges and their providers. Anne is a Certified Peer specialist. She holds a PH.D and MA in Anthropology from Harvard University, an M.S in education and a BA in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A from Boston University. She has held significant academic, administrative and outreach positions at Harvard, MIT, and Wheaton College. She is also a co-founder of Bright Horizons Work Family Solutions. With her diverse background in research, building innovative organizations combined with significant experience in peer and family communities, she has helped to build creative, innovative, communities that hold individuals with lived experience and their families at their core.

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