ChildLinks Issue 2: Parental Mental Health

Barnardos. (2014). ChildLinks Issue 2: Parental Mental Health.
In recent years, pressures on parents have increased, with austerity budgets cutting child support payments and increasing costs. Barnardos staff are reporting that poor mental health among parents is increasing in prevalence. They are also finding that when a parent experiences a mental health difficulty and they are not adequately supported or are receiving inappropriate treatment, their children can be affected. The slow roll out of A Vision for Change, the Government’s 2006 strategy for mental health services, is seriously affecting the recovery of many adults and children experiencing poor mental health. In this issue of ChildLinks, Barnardos advocates for supporting families who are facing mental health issues in a holistic manner, where the needs of each family member are identified and supported, and gives recommendations for adopting such an approach. Barnardos project leader, Robert Dunne, outlines the work in Barnardos projects supporting children and families impacted by mental health difficulties. Mary Donaghy shares information about the Think Family project in Northern Ireland, which focuses on improving collaborative working and enhancing understanding of multi-disciplinary roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders working across mental health and children’s services. Personal experiences regarding mental health issues in families highlight the challenges faced. Gina Delaney describes the isolation and confusion she felt as a child when she was excluded from discussions and decisions about mental health issues in her family. Fiona Kennedy then shares her own personal experiences of mental health issues and its impact on her family. The stigma that exists around mental health issues can prevent people from seeking the help and support they need. See Change, Ireland’s national programme to change minds about mental health problems, recognises that real change – in terms of attitudes to mental health problems – happens at local and community level. Sorcha Lowry, Campaign Manager with See Change, explains how the organisation spreads the message among local communities, membership organisations and representative bodies. It is not possible to generalise the effects of parental mental health difficulties on families as it can depend on the severity and duration of the difficulty. But the absence of supports for both parents and children can compromise the child’s ability to cope. This can result in children’s social and emotional development and their educational attainment being adversely affected. Often parents will put their children first, even if they are feeling under severe strain. They may also have a concern that asking for help could lead to questions being raised about their parenting capacity. Parents experiencing mental health difficulties must be supported in a sympathetic manner which takes into consideration these additional stresses they are carrying.