A recent survey highlights some of the difficulties and lack of support for families with a parent with a mental illness. National mental health charity SANE Australia, surveyed 330 parents who have a mental illness and have a school aged child.
Key findings include:
- only 31% of respondents have told their child’s school they have a mental illness. Of these, half found the disclosure unhelpful, leading to stigmatising by other parents and in some cases, bullying of their child.
- nearly half of parents living with a mental illness do not have a Care Plan for their children if they become unwell or need to go to hospital.
- nearly half the parents surveyed said there had been occasions when they had not sought help for their mental illness because they feared losing custody of their child.
The research found that parents living with a mental illness primarily rely on family and friends for support, where available.
This may be more of a statement that there are few, if any, other support systems, and so they rely on family and friends if they are there.
"When I got my diagnosis, I had no one to tell"
I know from experience that many parents with a mental illness are single parents, the relationship with their partner or spouse having broken down.
Sadly, the wider family also may find it hard to understand or overcome the hurtful things that can occur when a person is unwell. As a result, these single parents can be very isolated. When the parent is isolated, so is the child in their care.
I remember well the comment of one single parent who, in addition to all her other troubles, sadly developed cancer. She told me, ‘Mandy, when I got my diagnosis, I had no one to tell’. Understandably, she turned to her eldest son, who was only ten. The children we support are very used to shouldering heavy burdens.
This underlines the importance of our work, in that we are careful to show the respect we feel for the parent, and to bring some comfort to child and parent in the course of providing our services to the children.
I realise that this paints quite a bleak picture, but unfortunately, it reflects the real struggles being faced by these very vulnerable families.
The reality is that there is a vast shortage of skilled, respectful, empowering mental health support services. We aim to be just that, and in some small way contribute to bringing help and healing to some very special children and their parents.