Children of parents with severe mental health issues (SMI) are at significantly increased risk for negative life outcomes and impaired quality of life (QoL). These children are presented with more challenges in nearly every area of life, including academic, social, and emotional due to the environments in which they grow up. Other risk factors that make them especially vulnerable to poor outcomes include low socioeconomic status, isolation, abuse, domestic violence, and genetic predisposition to mental illness.
SMI is used to describe a broad spectrum of serious mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar, personality issues, and anxiety, among others. Although there are numerous avenues of treatment for parents with SMI, the fact remains that many of them do not adhere to their treatment and even if they do, their SMI still has an incredible impact on their children.
In an effort to find out exactly what needs these children have and what can be done to improve their QoL, Penny Bee of the Institute of Brian, Behavior & Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom conducted interviews with 19 participants that included professionals from social, academic, volunteer, and health organizations, as well as six children and five parents who had lived with a parent who had mental health issues.
The responses from the interviews provided 59 specific themes that were classified into 11 categories. From these, three key areas of priority were identified. These included the elimination of the parents’ mental health problems and associated symptoms, provide more problem solving and coping strategies, and to increase literacy and education pertaining to psychological problems.
Bee noticed that even though the answers provided were personal and quite insightful, they were not correlated with the priorities for QoL endorsed by national policies. For instance, child abuse, neglect and maltreatment, sexual and physical health and cognitive and academic development were not cited as priorities by the participants in this study, but are key initiatives and goals of larger public policies currently in place.
This disparity reveals a wide gap between what those in the field of mental health, and those with lived experience relating to SMI, think will improve QoL, and what politicians and policy makers believe will satisfy criteria for a satisfactory QoL. Bee said, “New, age-appropriate instruments that better reflect the life priorities and unique challenges faced by the children of parents with severe mental illness may need to be developed.” The next step and obvious challenge will be to implement strategies to address these priorities.
Bee, P., Berzins, K., Calam, R., Pryjmachuk, S., Abel, K.M. (2013). Defining quality of life in the children of parents with severe mental illness: A preliminary stakeholder-led model. PLoS ONE 8(9): e73739. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073739
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