Programme to support kids of mental health patients

The health and education effects experienced by the children of mental health patients are to be addressed directly with families by professionals to try to fill a gap in related services.

Programme to support kids of mental health patients

By Niall Murray

The health and education effects experienced by the children of mental health patients are to be addressed directly with families by professionals to try to fill a gap in related services.

The issue is the focus of a HSE-funded research programme to promote a “think family” care delivery agenda.

Prof Sinéad McGilloway, of Maynooth University’s centre for mental health and community research, said international research shows 20%-25% of children have a parent with mental health difficulties.

She said they are among the most vulnerable “hidden” groups in society, but that the important topic has been neglected.

“Children of parents with mental health difficulties are at risk of poor mental and physical health, impaired social relationships, and low levels of educational attainment,” said Prof McGilloway.

She is principal investigator of the Primera programme (promoting research and innovation in mental health services for children and families) at Maynooth University, working with researchers Mairead Furlong and Christine Mulligan. Their centre will work with HSE-funded mental health services in eight locations, four Tusla services, and one St John of God service, which will begin recruiting families next month.

Balancing the needs of a parent recovering from mental ill health with those of their children is challenging, said Prof McGilloway. A masterclass was held yesterday, with leading family mental health expert Dr Adrian Falkov, for people and groups interested in the issue. Prof McGilloway said this is the start of a long-overdue conversation.

Through services involved in the project, including social workers, family therapists, and psychologists, six to eight family talk sessions will be organised.

“This is about evidence-based intervention. They will help children understand the impact on them of their parent’s mental health difficulty, but it will also help parents to understand that effect,” she said.

It is hoped to facilitate communication and build resilience in families around their health, with potential for wider use of the approach in the public health services if the kind of outcomes emerge from the interventions that researchers expect.

“This is the first time any project of this kind has been conducted in Ireland. We’re trying to block the gap around family mental health,” said Prof McGilloway. “An awful lot of mental health professionals are doing extra work on the ground, but we’re trying to put a structured intervention in place.”

Meanwhile, a survey suggests nearly a third of second-level and college students believe their parents are quite or very stressed in the context of them going back to, or getting through, school or college.

The issue is connected to varying levels of stress by over 90% of the 270 parents in the survey for the makers of the Zenflore food supplement with a stress-relieving friendly bacteria.

Ted Dinan, professor of psychiatry at University College Cork and academic partner to the company, said leaving everyday stress unmanaged can lead to health problems. “The survey shows the reality that day-to-day stress has a real impact, to include feelings of worry, sleep disruption, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.”

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