Globally, mental illnesses affect a fifth of the population under 18 years old (Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, & Murray, 2012). In the United States, mental illnesses usually affect children at the adolescent stage. Reports from a national prevalence study undertaken in 2010 showed that one in five adolescents had been diagnosed with a mental illness at least once in their lifetime (Merikangas et al., 2010). Moreover, the study indicated that most incidences of suicide were reported among young people with mental illnesses.
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Anxiety disorders have been reported as the most common type of mental illnesses among young people (Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, & Murray, 2012). Substance use of mental disorders is also a common occurrence in this population.
Most research studies have, in the past, focused on establishing how mental illnesses among parents affect their children. There is a dearth of research on the effects of childhood mental illnesses on the parents. In this view, the impact of childhood mental illnesses on the lives of the parents appears to be underestimated.
Furthermore, the majority of mental healthcare institutions do not incorporate parental counselling in their treatment programs (Song, Mailick, & Greenberg, 2014). Therefore, it is important to determine the impacts of childhood mental illnesses on the lives of their parents. This study will also provide information on the importance of parental counseling in dealing with the impact of mental illnesses.
The aim of the current research is to determine how childhood mental illnesses affect parents. The research will also determine whether these parents receive psychological counseling to help them deal with the effects of childhood mental illnesses.
Children Mental Illness
According to Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012), mental illnesses affect a significant number of children and young adults throughout the world. In the United States, the illnesses are reported to affect one in every five young adults in the population. Additionally, the prevalence of childhood mental illnesses in other countries is reported to be higher. Song, Mailick, and Greenberg (2014) note that mood and anxiety disorders constitute the most common types of childhood mental illnesses.
In a study undertaken by Merikangas et al. (2010) in the United States, the authors reported that anxiety disorders accounted for about 31.9 percent of the total mental illness cases among young adults. Other common illnesses reported in the nationwide study included mood and substance use disorders. The authors concluded that the prevalence rates reported were almost similar to those reported in the American adult population.
Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012) note that these illnesses alter the normal functioning of children. Moreover, research has indicated that young people with mental illnesses are at a higher risk of dropping out of school and being imprisoned (Song, Mailick, & Greenberg, 2014). Suicide has also been reported as a major cause of death among adolescents and young adults with mental illnesses.
Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012) report that the high prevalence of mental illnesses in the population is an indication that these children require constant support and counseling to prevent suicide. In summary, the high prevalence and adverse effects of mental illnesses warrant further research.
Song, Mailick, and Greenberg (2014) indicate that childhood mental disorders incur a huge burden on families. Specifically, the family is likely to experience both emotional and financial burdens due to treatment and counselling costs. Mental illnesses take a toll on the physiological health of the family. About Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012), a lot of research has focused on the burden of care among children whose parents have mental illnesses.
There are very few research studies that have been undertaken to determine the impact of childhood mental illnesses on parents or guardians. Parents of young people with mental illness are reported to worry too much about the health of their children (Song, Mailick, & Greenberg, 2014).
Merikangas et al. (2010) acknowledge that taking care of a mentally ill family member is not easy and has been associated with poor psychological health. Such effects are worse when parents take care of their mentally ill children as they experience financial hardship, disruption of their tight work schedules, depression, and frustration (Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, & Murray, 2012).
Additionally, previous research has indicated that these parents are likely to be sad all the time. In the case of children with Serious Mental Illnesses (SMI), Song, Mailick, and Greenberg (2014) point out that parents are likely to experience more devastating psychological effects.
One major challenge that such parents experience is balancing family and work since some of these children require round-the-clock care. This indicates that establishing the impact of mental illnesses on the parents is important, as it is likely to promote their psychological health. Furthermore, this would ensure that they spend more time with their mentally ill children.
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Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012) acknowledge the importance of focusing on the level of stress experienced by the parents when dealing with childhood mental illnesses. Moreover, the dynamic of loss and grief experienced by these caregivers should be established. Song, Mailick, and Greenberg (2014) note that previous research indicates that parents of mentally ill children offer their care relentlessly and tend to forget about their own physical and mental health.
Also, the majority of research undertaken on this topic has revealed that the most reported effects of childhood mental illnesses among these parents are feelings of grief and loss. Such grief is likely to have a negative impact on the mentally ill child and other family members (Glied & Cuellar, 2003). As a result, the good relationship between the members of the family is likely to be affected. According to Song, Mailick, and Greenberg (2014), there is a dearth of research on the impact of childhood mental illnesses on family members.
Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012) point out that the available research has been unable to identify whether there are variations on the kind of grief experienced by parents whose children have mental illnesses and that experienced by other family members. Notably, child and adolescent mental health services do not seem to focus on the effect of the illness on the lives of the parents. As a result, stress and psychological disturbance among the parents are likely to go unnoticed and untreated.
Glied and Cuellar (2003) acknowledge the efforts made in the past in identifying the impact of ‘grief’ among relatives of a mentally ill patient. Such studies have concluded that gender is not associated with feelings of grief and loss.
Moreover, the majority of the research revealed that parents who spent more time with their children were more likely to present with feelings of loss and grief (Song, Mailick, & Greenberg, 2014). In a study by Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012), the authors reported that lack of counseling was a correlate of feelings of loss and grief among these parents.
In summary, most research seems to report that parents of children with mental illnesses are most likely to experience loss and grief. In this regard, it is important to determine whether the findings of the current research resonate with past research studies.
According to Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012), family interventions are important when dealing with mental illnesses. Such interventions ensure that the effects of caring for patients with mental illnesses are dealt with. Additionally, Song, Mailick, and Greenberg (2014) note that previous research has shown that offering education, training, and support to parents of children with mental illness assists them in coping with the situation.
The patient’s outcomes have also been reported to improve when the caregivers receive counseling. Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012) also note the importance of family psycho-education when dealing with childhood mental illnesses. This enables the parents to get more education on the symptoms and etiology of the illness affecting their children. It also offers better skills in the management of mental illnesses.
However, Lautenbach, Hiraki, Campion, and Austin (2012) note that many mental health facilities do not seem to recognize the importance of parent’s guidance and counseling on the illnesses affecting their children. The incorporation of genetic counsellors in these institutions has been reported to enhance family understanding of the impact of mental illnesses. In reference to Lautenbach, Hiraki, Campion, and Austin (2012), genetic counsellors can provide psychosocial support to parents dealing with feelings of grief and loss.
Moreover, past research has reported that counseling has profound effects on the health of relatives of a mentally ill patient (Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, & Murray, 2012). Genetic counseling also affords the parents projections that are more accurate on the probability of other siblings getting the same mental illnesses.
Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012) note that childhood mental illnesses are likely to take a toll on the mental and emotional health of the parents. In this view, the effects of childhood mental illnesses on the parents can only be dealt with through counseling.
The present study
Past research on the effect of mental illnesses seems to focus on the relatives and children of individuals with mental health issues. In reference to Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012), very few studies have focused on the impact of these illnesses on the parents. In this regard, there is a dearth of evidence on the kind of experiences that parents have when dealing with children with mental illnesses.
Additionally, Lautenbach, Hiraki, Campion, and Austin (2012) indicate that healthcare institutions fail to recognize that the illness can take a toll on the physical and emotional life of a parent. This is an indication of the low level of attention that researchers and policymakers have paid to parents who have children with mental illnesses.
As aforementioned, there is scant research on the impact of childhood mental illnesses on the parent. Moreover, the available research does not seem to give an extensive replication of these effects. Specifically, the majority of the research studies seem to focus on grief and loss as the major effects of parents dealing with childhood mental illnesses (Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, & Murray, 2012).
This is worrying as there are many other effects of mental illnesses on the caregivers. The current research will give more extensive evidence on the impact of childhood mental illnesses on parents. It will also concentrate on other effects that neither are nor reported in previous research studies.
The current research will replicate a previous study undertaken by Richardson, Cobham, Mc Dermott, and Murray (2012). The research involved comprehensive interviews on parents of children aged 18 years and below. The research was undertaken in a mental health service center, and it was qualitative. Similarly, the current research will also employ a qualitative research design to provide an in-depth view of the topic under study. Additionally, this research will assess the various effects of childhood mental illness on the parents.
These will include; loss and grief, loss of parental confidence, feelings of stigmatization, financial constraints, stress and depression, complex grief, the uncertainty of the child’s future, and destabilization of their personal and work life, among other impacts. The current research will also assess the type and effectiveness of counseling services that the parents receive at the mental health facility. In this view, there are two major null hypotheses that will be tested in the current research:
- The occurrence of childhood mental illness does not cause any effects on the parents
- It is not important for parents with children who have mental illnesses to receive counseling.
Lautenbach, D. M., Hiraki, S., Campion, M. W., & Austin, J. C. (2012). Mothers’ perspectives on their child’s mental illness as compared to other complex disorders in their family: Insights to inform genetic counseling Practice. Denise M. Lautenbach, 21(4), 564–572.
Glied, S., & Cuellar, A. E. (2003). Trends and issues in child and adolescent mental health. Health Affairs, 22(5), 39-50.
Merikangas, K. R., He, J.-p., Burstein, M., Swanson, S. A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L.,… Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in US adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(10), 980–989.
Richardson, M., Cobham, V., Mc Dermott, B., & Murray, J. (2012). Youth mental illness and the family: parents’ loss and grief. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 22(5), 719-736.
Song, J., Mailick, M. R., & Greenberg, J. S. (2014). Work and health of parents of adult children with serious mental illness. Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Fmily Studies, 63(1), 122–134.