Today’s children… Tomorrow’s adults
When we compare current mental health treatments to what was available 20 years ago, we can see that things have changed significantly. In 2006, although stigma still existed, we took for granted that people with mental illness lived in the community and that the care system reflected this expectation. Over the past two decades, ministerial guidelines have focused on so-called community services in order to provide services that meet the needs of people with mental illness. This guiding principle is fully consistent with our societal choices.
In light of this new reality, it has become increasingly important to focus on the impact that occurs in the lives of all family members, including the children of those affected. These children often live in silence and grow up bearing a heavy burden. Fragile young people need to be taken care of, especially as they often witness their loved one’s recovery process. To this end, it is important to equip them adequately, regardless of which region they live in.
The family movement
In 1986, a support movement was created in Quebec. This movement meant that parents were provided with a structure to meet their needs. It is important to understand that when mental illness rears its head, families are confronted with their own biases and family life is heavily disrupted. Family members often feel helpless and deeply saddened and quickly become physically and psychologically exhausted, along with all the negative consequences that can entail.
Over the last 20 years, the movement to focus on family has grown and today, in addition to support groups, we provide a whole range of services available through our more than 40 member organizations. In the beginning, fathers and mothers came knocking on our door for help. Over time, friends, partners, brothers and sisters joined them in seeking help. As part of this awareness campaign, we are reaching out to help teens and young adults who have a parent with a mental illness.
How a parent’s mental illness impacts their child
Although few studies have focused on the experiences of children, work done in recent years has attempted to explore how parental mental health problems influence their children’s mental health. The study revealed family vulnerability as a compelling issue. Children who have a parent with a mental illness are more likely to develop psychosocial difficulties. According to the literature, the experiences of parents with mental illness are similar in many ways to those of other parents, however research has emphasized their unique circumstances, and in particular, their deficits and failures. In this sense, for multiple reasons such as a chaotic home environment, weaker family cohesion and marital discord, these children do not always receive the parental care they need. They are often ashamed to talk about their situation, and, as a result, they may distance themselves from other family members or friends who could support them. Children of people with mental illness are often emotionally troubled.
Without support, feelings of guilt, resentment, shame, embarrassment and fear may follow them through the years. Faced with their inability to adapt to the situation, children will develop adjustment issues including behavioural problems and poor social skills. In adulthood, this life experience may lead them to experience relational and emotional difficulties. Some will experience problems in maintaining both romantic and platonic relationships which can lead to difficulty trusting themselves and reservations about others.
However, it is important to note that studies show that many of these children do not have abnormal difficulties, and some families even do quite well. Depending on the child’s personality and given the right circumstances, the child may develop resilience and avoid significant problems, or even make constructive use of the hardship.
Prevention is the key
In a context where psychological distress is linked to several factors, it is important to consider providing adequate support to this vulnerable clientele. Regardless of how the child is involved, professionals in all settings must put their skills to use and pay special attention to them. We must join forces to counter the stigma of mental illness, because the taboo and silence surrounding this issue accentuate the isolation of children.
For teens and young adults, get them to ask for help. It is important for them to learn about their parent’s mental illness in order to understand how it may affect their lives. Seeking help allows you to develop new ways of taking care of yourself, understanding and setting boundaries. Take the first step to rekindling hope and reducing the feelings of isolation you have experienced for too long.
Do it now : someone, somewhere, will spend the time to take care of you! Contact your local organization at 1-855-272-7837.