Parents ‘over-reliant’ on medication to treat mental health issues

More and more families are experiencing mental health problems and when they do, services are often inadequate, with an over-reliance on medication, according to a report published today.

Parents ‘over-reliant’ on medication to treat mental health issues

The Barnardos study highlights how “parental mental-health difficulties alone present little risk of significant harm to children”, but the “absence of supports for both parents and children can compromise the child’s ability to cope”.

The report, entitled Patients. Parents. People. Towards integrated supports and services for families experiencing mental health difficulties, outlines how mental-health problems are often treated “in isolation, without recognising patients as parents and tailoring treatment accordingly”.

It says there is a lack of co-ordination in how services are delivered and concerns over the “dominance of the medical model in mental-health treatment”.

“From our experience, parents taking benzodiazepines are not being adequately assessed to check its efficacy or whether it is still a suitable treatment,” it states.

“Barnardos has more than 40 services across the country and staff are reporting that poor mental health among parents is increasing in prevalence. Barnardos staff are also finding that when a parent experiences a mental-health difficulty and are not adequately supported or are receiving inappropriate treatment, their children can be affected. Staff also found that very few parents have adequate support for their mental health difficulty.”

The report claims that a key issue highlighted by staff is “the over-reliance on medication as the treatment for parents experiencing mental-health difficulties”, in what is described as a “shortcut solution” that can negatively affect their ability to parent.

Among a number of proposals, Barnardos says the Government’s mental health policy, A Vision for Change, should be properly resourced and that parents and children should be treated for mental-health issues in a family context complete with “lower intensity intervention”.

Other recommendations include speeding up the rollout of community-based services, consulting with parents affected by mental health problems, and speaking directly with children.

GP Dr Colin Bradley, professor of general practice in University College Cork, one of the speakers at today’s report launch in Croke Park, said the widespread use of ‘benzos’ — psychoactive drugs — both illegally and via prescription could be seen as a “marker for psychological distress”.

He said not enough resources had been put into family supports, particularly in areas of economic deprivation.

Quotes from a new Barnardos report on mental health difficulties in families:

- “I wasn’t focusing on my kids’ needs or listening to them because I was too relaxed on my Xanax. The kids could be doing anything — putting themselves into danger and I wouldn’t be aware of it. Now I know how dangerous they [benzodiazepines] are.” — a parent

- “Lack of communication with children is a huge problem. As a child, you are quite black and white, so you think someone must be to blame, as everything must have a cause.” — former child carer

- “My life was out of control. I was losing everything in my life; I was taking Xanax to block out the domestic violence I was going through. But I wanted my life to change.” — parent

- “Knowing what I know about this type of medication and the torment of coming off it I would never have taken them. In my opinion, Xanax is a deadly drug and should be taken off the market. [Parents] should not take them as you are not focusing on your child’s needs.” — parent

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