Government urged to support children whose parents have mental illness

Our Time, the only UK charity solely supporting children and young people whose parents have a mental illness, is today launching ‘Being Seen and Heard’ — a campaign calling for recognition and support for the 3.4 million affected children.

In an average British classroom, that equates to eight children[3] — more than one in four children per class.

These children are amongst the most vulnerable and neglected in the country, receiving 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 [2] 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. Experts say the potential cost to the UK government could amount to £180 billion. [1]

All this is preventable. Evidence indicates that low-cost, timely intervention enables young people to flourish. [4][5]

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.

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Editor’s notes:

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  1. Ernst & Young, ‘Sizing the Problem – analysis by EY,’ commissioned by Our Time (2018)
  2. Rubovits, C. (1996). Project CHILD: an intervention programme for psychotic mothers and their children. In Gopfert, J.Webster & MV Seeman (eds) Parental Psychiatric Disorder (2nd edition pp 161-172) New York:Cambridge University Press
  3. Children’s Commissioner Vulnerability Report 2018
  4. Welsh Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, Public Health Wales, Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, 2015
  5. Rutter, (1966) Children of sick parents. An environmental and psychiatric study. London: Oxford University Press.
  6. Cooklin A (2013) Promoting children’s resilience to parental mental illness: engaging the child’s thinking Advances in psychiatric treatment (2013), 19, 229–240

Additional references

  1. Cooklin A, (2010) Living upside down: being a young carer of a parent with mental illness, Advances in psychiatric treatment 16: 141-146
  2. Parrott L., Jacobs G., and Roberts D., (2008) SCIE Research briefing 23: Stress and resilience factors in parents with mental health problems and their children, London,
  3. Wolpert M, et al (2014) An exploration of the experience of attending the Kidstime programme for children with parents with enduring mental health issues: Parents’ and young people’s views, Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry 1–13
  4. Streeting J. Still Small Voice, Journal of Family Health Vol.25 No2