Today, Our Time launches its ‘Being Seen and Heard’ campaign and petition, calling for recognition and support for the 3.4 million children and young people affected by parental mental illness. In an average British classroom, that equates to eight children, which is more than one in four children per class. Despite being among the most vulnerable and neglected in the country, they receive little attention or support.
Parental mental illness is one of the 10 most powerful sources of toxic stress in young people and part of the cause of problems such as substance misuse and behavioural issues. Without help, 70% risk developing mental health problems themselves at huge expense to the public purse. Some 3 million children are projected to be at risk of developing a mental health issue by 2021, and experts say the potential cost to the UK government could amount to £180 billion.
All this is preventable, and evidence indicates that low-cost, timely intervention enables young people to flourish.
Our Time wants children affected by parental mental illness to be seen and heard. We want to identify and support these young people, and to inform and train educators and healthcare professionals so they can help too. We also want this vulnerable group to have specific recognition. In Australia, they are known as COPMI (children of parents with mental illness), and as ‘young relatives’ in Nordic countries.
We want this ‘at risk’ group recognised within public policy and funding frameworks by 2021.
Our Time founder, family psychiatrist Dr Alan Cooklin, said: “Children of parents with a mental illness are a forgotten group, yet their situation can create a cycle of intergenerational mental health problems unless we act now to help them become resilient.”
Dympna Cunnane, Our Time CEO, said: “I am excited to launch this campaign to identify and provide early help for children of parents with a mental illness. Without action on the part of policymakers, healthcare providers and educators, we will allow this large group of children to cope alone and become the patients of the future. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye.
“Everywhere I go someone says, ‘that was me,’ and adults write to us with heartbreaking stories about their experiences as children of parents with a mental illness.”
Naomi is a case in point.
“I never told anyone that both of my parents were seriously unwell. Home rarely felt safe. Every night, I would wish as hard as I could that I would wake up in a ‘normal’ family. No one knew how to speak to me, so I chose to say nothing, which only perpetuated my silence. To have had access to Our Time, would’ve armed me with better understanding, and given me comfort that I was not alone.”
Naomi says ‘Being Seen and Heard’ has the potential to save lives. The ‘Being Seen and Heard’ launch takes place on 17 October 2018, at the House of Commons, with Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Norman Lamb MP, Luciana Berger MP, and guest speaker, Alastair Campbell, Our Time’s patron.
Please sign Our Time’s petition to help make a difference to the lives of children and young people affected by a parent’s mental illness.