We welcome this report from the Royal Foundation which highlights the importance of supporting parents as well as children. It is worth noting that 90% of people in this study cited parental mental health and wellbeing as a critical factor in a child’s development, emphasising the point that supporting our children means supporting the adults who care for them. We would like to think that this insight will result in greater awareness of and support for families where the parents have mental health difficulties.
Currently, this issue has not been on anyone’s agenda despite the fact that almost 3 million children in the UK have a parent with a mental illness. There is no policy and therefore no support for this large but very vulnerable group of children and young people. This needs to change urgently because the pandemic has revealed the disparity between families who feel supported by their community and those that have become even more isolate and lonely.
We are in complete agreement that parents’ wellbeing is central to the child’s wellbeing and development. It is good to see that most people understand that good mental health is not just a matter of biology which is hard to influence but that nurture is equally important and has lifelong implications, both positively and negatively. The wellbeing of parents therefore makes a huge difference to a child’s life and health outcomes. Where a parent suffers from a mental illness, there is an increased need to support those parents and take a whole family perspective. Otherwise, the cycle of mental health problems will continue across the generations.
The report points out the quality of relationships that surround children and young people, including a safe environment, is key to building the foundations of future success. This is especially true for children of parents with a mental illness because there is so little sense of safety for these children. We know that supportive relationship buffers the impact of parental mental illness and where this is provided the children develop amazing resilience and maturity.
Another aspect of the report which is striking was the finding that 70% of parents feel judged by others which negatively affects their mental health. The stigma around mental illness means that these judgements are even more destructive and detrimental to parents who struggle with their mental health. We know that social isolation is a feature of families dealing with mental illness and this is hugely problematic for the children who will not willingly disclose the stress and burdens of living with mental illness. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic where the little support these parents and children received disappeared, leaving them ever more isolated and lonely, which in turn cause a deterioration in their mental health.
COVID-19 has brought some communities together but not all, the most deprived communities have suffered most.