Growing up with a mentally ill parent can leave a painful legacy. Children in this situation can miss out on many important experiences typical to other households. Organizations and experts alike share concern for these youths and seek to alleviate the pain of these circumstances.
Members of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)stated that the risk of mental illness in children of ill parents is higher, blaming genetics and an unstable home environment for the increased danger. The organization said that parents with depression, drug abuse, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders are particularly troubling to the mental health of children.
Raising awareness to this problem is Joanne Nicholson, Ph.D., and her colleagues with the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the research titled “Critical Issues for Parents with Mental Illness and their Families.”
To start, Nicholson gathered data from the National Comorbidity Study and found one-third of women and one-fifth of men facing a mental illness in the 12 months leading up to data gathering. Sixty-five percent of the women and 52 percent of the men were parents.
Nicholson also found correlations, such as positive ones between women with mental illnesses and pregnancies as well as histories of miscarriages and schizophrenia diagnoses. Potentially less surprising is the increased risk of losing child custody in households hurting from mental disorders.
Other findings of Nicholson’s include:
- “Rates of child psychiatric diagnosis among offspring range from 30 to 50 percent compared with an estimated rate of 20 percent among the general child population,” Nicholson wrote
- The stigma of mental illness, substandard interdisciplinary support among professional caregivers and a system focused on just problem-solving rather than prevention are all barriers to adequate care of families with mental health issues
- Children of parents with mental illness may show lower academic and social performance along with stunted developmental milestones
The researchers created a host of recommendations, including increased psychological training for professionals often working with families in crisis and education among communities to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
AACAP also discussed “protective factors” for at-risk kids, or actions that can assist them in living mentally healthy lives despite familial dysfunctions. These include healthy interactions with peer groups, positive interactions with other adults, a variety of interests in school and other arenas and the persistence of love in the household despite the challenges of mental illness.
Also critical is psychological interventions from mental health professionals. They can provide multiple levels of care for patients and their families, mediating conflicts and treating the root problems of consistent discord.
Sovereign Health of California is a resource for patients and their families coping with drug addiction and other mental illnesses. We have providers in different parts of California ready to meet your needs. Find out more by calling our 24/7 helpline at any time.
Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer