Supporting children and families
It’s vital to identify parental mental health problems as soon as they emerge and provide families with appropriate support so their children’s wellbeing does not suffer.
NSPCC services which provide early support include:
Pregnancy in Mind
Supports parents who are at risk of, or are experiencing mild to moderate anxiety and depression during pregnancy and the first year after birth.
> Find out more about Pregnancy in Mind on the NSPCC website
Helps parents learn how to care for their new baby. We’re now supporting other organisations to deliver Baby Steps in local areas.
> Find out more about Baby steps on the NSPCC website
Minding the Baby
Helps first-time mothers develop a positive relationship with their baby.
> Find out more about Minding the Baby on the NSPCC website
Prioritising children’s needs
Anyone working with parents or carers who have mental health problems must maintain a focus on their children’s wellbeing.
Advocacy and mentoring
- Children should be given access to a mentor and/or advocate who they can talk to about their parent or carer’s mental health and who can help make their views heard.
- Children need someone they can contact for support if they need to, especially if there is an emergency.
- Children may be wary about being offered therapy or counselling. Depending on their parents’ experiences, they may have negative associations with this kind of support. They may also have fears about developing mental health problems themselves, and think that being referred to a counsellor is a sign of mental illness (Cooklin, 2013).
It’s important that children whose parents have mental health problems have the chance to interact with others in similar situations. This allows them to both offer and receive support to/from others. Successful peer support networks can have a positive impact on children’s wellbeing and resilience by:
- increasing self-esteem
- improving understanding of parental mental health issues
- teaching communication and coping skills (Foster, 2016).
Many children and young people use Childline’s peer support message boards to express their feelings, talk about their experiences and share advice with others.
Children and young people should play a positive role in, and contribute to decisions about, their parent or carer’s care (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2011).
They want to be involved in interventions and they want their views to be taken seriously (Cooklin, 2013).
- Giving children and young people accurate, age appropriate information about mental health problems can address any misconceptions or fears they may have and can give them the language to express themselves (Grove, Reupert and Maybery, 2015).
- Allowing children and young people distance from their parent or carer’s emotions and behaviours can enable them to develop their own thinking and emotions (Cooklin, 2013).
- Explaining a parent or carer’s mental health difficulties can be a platform for wider discussions about relationships and emotions in general.
Educating children about parental mental health problems can have a number of benefits including:
- increasing the child’s resilience
- challenging the child’s misconceptions about mental health
- increasing the child’s understanding and empathy for their parent or carer
- improving communications between the parent or carer and child (Grove, Reupert and Maybery, 2015; Wolpert et al, 2015).
It’s vital to build safe and trusting relationships with children so they can speak out about any problems they are experiencing. This involves teaching children what abuse is and how they can get help.
Our Speak out Stay safe service for schools helps children understand abuse in all its forms and know how to protect themselves.
> Find out more about Speak Out Stay Safe
Family members can be reluctant to discuss mental health with each other. Lack of communication can result in misunderstandings and may make children feel worried or alone.
Interventions which encourage families to communicate with each other can help everyone understand the impact of the mental health problems (Grove, Reupert and Maybery, 2015).
Families can benefit from meeting and sharing experiences with other families. This can:
- prevent relapses
- reduce feelings of isolation and stigma
- offer positive ways to interact with each other
- support more open discussion about mental health across the wider family (Wolpert et al, 2015).
Some interventions help family members to design and implement ‘staying well’ plans. This could include:
- sign-posting to other helpful services
- setting goals
- developing problem solving skills
- offering advice on managing stress
- recognising the early signs of a relapse (Gatsou et al, 2017).
We developed Young SMILES in collaboration with the University of Manchester, Barnardo's and the NHS. It helps families to understand their mental health issues and improve their health and wellbeing.
> Find out more about Young SMILES on the NSPCC website
Practitioners must maintain a focus on the wellbeing of the child. They should monitor and review children’s progress throughout the period of intervention and respond appropriately.