One in four families has a parent who suffers from a mental illness, new study shows

A recent study funded by the HSE states that nearly one in four families in Ireland have a parent who suffers from, or who previously suffered from a mental illness. Furthermore, research also shows that children of those who suffer from mental illnesses are 41% to 77% more likely to suffer from them as well.

These are stark and worrying statistics considering Ireland’s lack of cohesion between both adult and child mental health services. However, a new solution might be on the horizon, as a radical new ‘Family Talk’ approach has been recommended by researchers.

Maynooth University Centre for Mental Health and Community Research conducted a five-year study called PRIMERA, which investigated how best we can deliver mental health services and interventions to families where a parent has a diagnosed mental illness.

The PRIMERA study looked at the ‘Family Talk’ approach to family mental health problems and it showed some pretty positive results.

As outlined in the study, “Family Talk is an evidence-based, manualised, 6-8 session programme for families where a parent has mental health difficulties. Family Talk involves trained clinicians seeing parents, children and the whole family.”

Some of the benefits of using the ‘Family Talk’ intervention include:

  • Both the child and parent develop a good understanding of mental illness, including the impact of mental illness on other family members and the symptoms of those family members who suffer from mental illnesses.

  • Fewer child behavioural and emotional problems, less child depression, less conduct and hyperactivity problems, more prosocial behaviour.

  • Enhanced family relationships.

  • Improvements in parents’ mental health symptoms, increased parental resilience and coping capacities.

The ‘Family Talk’ research evaluation was completed using a random, yet controlled trial on 86 families, which included 139 parents and 221 children. Of those who participated, two thirds say that the ‘Family Talk’ method was “significantly beneficial”.

Ireland has the third highest incidence rate of adult mental illness amongst 36 countries in Europe, which costs the country €11B each year.

Speaking about this new research, lead investigator Professor Sinéad McGilloway said, “When child welfare is not considered in the treatment of parents with illness, our services are failing to identify a portion of children and adolescents who are at significant risk of becoming the next generation of mental health service users.”

“Where a parent has a known mental health disorder, the needs of their children or partners should automatically be considered and provided for, if so required,” she added.

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