Our Time urges policymakers to support children affected by parental mental illness
The survey released on March 26th 2019 by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and NHS England states that children living in families that struggle to function well are more likely to have a mental disorder¹ than those from healthy functioning families. And yet, these children continue to be excluded from public policy.
The ONS report identifies children whose parents have poor mental health as at particular risk. For example, it finds 30% of children aged 11 to 16 with a mental disorder have a parent with poor mental health, as against 11% whose parents are in good health.
Responding to the findings, Our Time CEO, Dympna Cunnane, said:
“The mental health of parents is one of the risk factors that has not been recognised or addressed in policy or service provision. Our Time has been working for the last 20 years to give the children of parents with a mental illness a voice and to develop support for the families which addresses the stigma associated with mental illness in general and particularly parental mental illness.
We are working towards breaking the intergenerational cycle which the ONS report highlights. Having a parent with a mental illness does not mean the children will follow in their parent’s footsteps, we have shown that relatively modest interventions can have a dramatic impact on family functioning and the outcomes for children.”
Our Time, the only UK charity solely supporting children and young people whose parents have a mental illness has confirmed through its own research that in excess of 3.4 million children are affected by parental mental illness. 
In an average British classroom, that equates to eight children — more than 1 in 4 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. As well as putting children themselves at increased risk of mental illness, it is part of the cause of problems such as substance misuse and behavioural issues.
All this is preventable. Evidence indicates that low-cost, timely intervention can and does make a difference.&
Our Time offers such interventions in two ways.
- Our Who Cares? Programme in schools helps teachers and staff identify young people affected by parental mental illness, and provides training and resources which enable staff to set up support systems and talk to young people about their individual situations, without requiring teachers to assume the role of counsellors or therapists.
- Our KidsTime Workshops work with children and their families to provide clear explanations of mental illness and treatments, peer support and creative activities. They’re safe spaces where young people are free to talk about their concerns, have fun and foster positive relationships with their families.
This report by ONS and NHS England touches the surface of a problem that until now has remained hidden.
Our aim is to ensure this ‘at risk’ group is recognised within public policy and funding frameworks by 2021 and these children are seen and heard.
— Ends —
- ONS Report 2019
- Ernst & Young, ‘Sizing the Problem – analysis by EY,’ commissioned by Our Time (2018)
- Children’s Commissioner Vulnerability Report 2018
- Welsh Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, Public Health Wales, Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, 2015
- Rutter, M. (1966) Children of sick parents. An environmental and psychiatric study. London: Oxford University Press.