Patients. Parents. People. Towards Integrated Supports and Services for Families Experiencing Mental Health Difficulties

Barnardos. (2014). Patients. Parents. People. Towards Integrated Supports and Services for Families Experiencing Mental Health Difficulties.
‘There is no health without mental health’. It is universally accepted that everyone’s mental health needs to be supported and protected. Whether you are an adult or a child, having positive mental health gives you the tools to embrace, adapt and cope with life’s opportunities and challenges. It helps build self-esteem and the ability to solve problems. In Ireland, there is still a sense that having poor mental health is somehow blameworthy. But the reality is that we all try to cope with the daily societal pressures that exist and all experience dips in our mental health at times. Feelings of guilt, inadequacy, shame and blame can undermine our ability to cope. Barnardos, which works with more than 8,900 children and families annually, is aware that parents striving to do what is best for their children face a range of challenges on a daily basis. Frequently, parents’ resilience is under threat due to a range of environmental and socio-economic factors including financial stress, addiction, poverty, inadequate public services and poor housing conditions. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair which can affect their mental health and their entire family. Tackling these societal issues would go a long way to improving families’ mental health and resilience and assist families to overcome the sense of hopelessness and despair that can become entrenched. Presently the deep rooted prejudice and discrimination against poor mental health often prevents people seeking help. Parents experiencing mental health problems are often concerned about naming these difficulties because of the prevalent societal prejudices that erroneously assume such conditions are always long term and are a barrier to being a parent. Unfortunately due to the dominance of the medical model with regard to treatment and recovery, the current availability of supports and services to help those with poor mental health are very siloed and can reinforce these societal attitudes. They can be rigid in their rules and perspective. Rarely is the individual seen in their family context but instead too often seen only as a patient in isolation not a parent. But no one lives in isolation. A more holistic system is needed; one with the availability of practical supports for parents to look after their children, free from the fear of losing parental responsibility. Research from the UK found children and young people want relevant information about their parent’s mental health difficulty, someone to talk to about their experiences and a chance to make and see friends4. The ability and desire for systems and society to move away from a medical oriented model towards a more holistic family approach will form a central part of this report. Only through such a shift will it allow families who are living with mental health challenges to thrive without being judged, and improve outcomes for parents and their children. This report is a result of desk research and discussion with parents, carers, mental health experts and professionals to examine different ways to better support parents experiencing difficulties and improve outcomes for their children.