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Impact of a Parent's Mental Illness on Children

In recent years, recognition has increased of the potential impact that parental mental illness can have on a child.

The impact of parental mental illness on family life and the child's well-being can be significant. Children whose parents have a mental illness are at risk of developing social, emotional and/or behavioral problems. The environment in which youth grow affects their development and emotional well-being as much as their genetic makeup does.

A number of challenges faced by the children of a parent with mental illness have been identified. For example:

  • the child may take on inappropriate levels of responsibility in caring for themselves and managing the household.
  • sometimes, the children blame themselves for their parents' difficulties, and experience anger, anxiety or guilt.
  • feeling embarrassed or ashamed as a result of the stigma associated with their parents' mental illness, they may become isolated from their peers and other community members.
  • they may be at increased risk for problems at school, drug use and poor social relationships.

Children of parents with any mental illness are at risk a range of mental health problems, including mood disorders, alcoholism, and personality disorders.

Despite these challenges, many children of parents with mental illness succeed in spite of genetic and environmental setbacks. Success is directly related to the number of strengths and challenges present within the family: the greater number of strengths and smaller number of challenges, the greater the likelihood of a child being successful. Researchers report that services for families and children should include opportunities to reduce challenges and enhance strengths and thus improve the opportunity for child success.

Sources:

  • Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol. 9, No. 1, 39-52 (2004)
  • British Medical Journal. 2003 August 2; 327(7409): 242-243.

 

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next: Children of Parents with Mental Illness Need Resilience

Last Updated: 19 March 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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