In recent years, a great deal of work has been done both in Northern Ireland and more globally to combat the stigma associated with mental health issues. We now know that about one in five people will suffer a mental illness serious enough to require treatment throughout their lives (Mental Health Foundation, 2016). The exact causes of various mental illnesses are highly complicated – they are a complex mix of genetics, experiences in life and random chance.
Certain factors can make mental ill health more or less likely, or can increase or decrease the length of illness. One such factor is being a parent. Rates of clinical depression can be as high as 35% in mothers with young children (Smith, 2004). Being a parent is stressful, and when combined with other potential stresses like being a single parent, poverty or physical illness the likelihood of causing a drop in mental wellbeing, such as anxiety or depression is higher.
Being a person with mental ill-health is extremely challenging. There is an enormous stigma associated with being mentally unwell – despite concerted attempts to address it. Research has suggested that people with mental illnesses are among the most devalued of all people with disabilities (Lyons & Hayes, 1995). This is especially true of parents with mental illness. There is a perception that parents with mental illness are unfit or unable to parent their children (Bassett et al, 1999) in society. Such parents feel that the healthcare and social services systems treat them poorly.
Despite this, many people with mental illness have children. One study found that as many as 60% of people with serious, chronic mental illness had a child under the age of 16 (Smith, 2004). For those parents, there are a number of specific challenges, such as (from Bassett et al 1999):
* Their existence as parents was often ignored. Poor link ups between adult mental health and children’s services made it hard for treatment to acknowledge their parenthood;
* They feared losing custody of their children;
* If they were hospitalised, they were often traumatised by this;
* They are socially isolated;
* They worried about the care of their child if they became ill;
* They struggled to access help and support;
* They faced stigma.
For more information on the impacts and seeking support you can read the full report in the link below.
You can also have a listen to our latest podcast episode where we chat to Tinylife about their Positive Minds for Premature Parents project and talk to mums about their experiences with mental health after having a premature baby.