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Children of parents with mental illness need support

GPs urged to collect data on this ‘high-risk’ group

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The government needs to do more to recognise and support the 3.4 million children in the UK who live with a parent with a mental illness.

This is the message from UK charity Our Time (formerly KidsTime Foundation), which has today launched it’s ‘Being Seen and Heard’ campaign calling for children affected by parental illness to be recognised within public policy and funding frameworks by 2021.

The organisation is also calling on GPs to collect data on these young people in order that they can be included in commissioning plans.

According to the charity, backed by data from the Children’s Commissioner Vulnerability Report 2018, one in four children in an average classroom have a parent with a mental illness.

Dr Alan Cooklin, family psychiatrist, and founder of Our Time, explained: “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, the charity’s CEO, added: “Without action on the part of policymakers, healthcare providers and educators, we will allow this large group of children to cope alone and to become the patients of the future.”

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, states the charity. Research shows that without help, 70% risk developing mental health problems themselves at huge expense to the public purse. A report from Ernst & Young, commissioned by the charity, warns that without intervention, the potential cost to the UK government could amount to £180 billion. While, evidence indicates that low-cost, timely intervention can mitigate this.

The charity wants children affected by parental mental illness to be identified and supported, for educators and healthcare professionals to be better informed, and for these children to be given specific recognition, as they are in other countries. In Australia they are known as COPMI (Children of Parents with Mental Illness), and as ‘Young Relatives’ in Nordic countries.

CEO Dympna Cunnane told OnMedica: “GPs are in the best possible position to think about the effects on the whole family when a parent has a mental illness. We call on the Royal College of General Practitioners and all GPs to collect data on these families so that they can be included in commissioning plans and get the help they need to prevent the inter-generational cycle of mental illness continuing into the future.”

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