“Parental mental illness has been shown to affect attachment formation and the cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral development of children. These children are also at increased risk of developing a psychiatric disorder in childhood, adolescence, and later adult life,” explains a 2009 research paper. Being a child with a mentally ill parent can lead to significant challenges and difficulties for the child. As children depend on their parents to meet their needs and provide care and safety, they are especially vulnerable to the mental health problems of their parents.
Moreover, as the ability of the parent to take care of the child can be decreased in such circumstances, it can also lead to high levels of stress, abuse, and trauma for the child. They are also highly likely to experience poverty and cope with the stigma associated with mental illness leading to shame and even being bullied at school.
It can also cause serious emotional health issues as the child may be constantly worried about their parent, falsely believe they are at fault and shy away from asking for help believing it may anger their parent or lead to some other negative outcomes.
For instance, studies reveal that children with parents who have depression are highly likely to experience adverse outcomes with certain risk factors, such as comorbid psychiatric disorders, marital conflict, exposure to violence, poverty, and the absence of one parent when the other is depressed.
The studies state “Depression in parents has been consistently associated with a number of behavior problems and psychopathology in children, including higher rates of depression, earlier age of onset, longer duration, greater functional impairment, higher likelihood of recurrence, higher rates of anxiety, and higher rates and levels of severity of internalizing and externalizing symptoms and disorders in children and adolescents.”
How to prevent mental health problems in children
Did you know 17.1 million children in the United States have or had suffered from a psychiatric disorder? In fact, research shows that over 22% of youth in the United States will be affected by a diagnosable psychiatric disorder with severe impairment and/or distress before they are 18. “Approximately one in every 4-5 youth in the U.S. meets criteria for a mental disorder with severe impairment across their lifetime,” explains the researchers. But, only 8% of them will receive treatment in a year.
However, there are certain factors that can help to protect children from mental health problems due to unhealthy parenting styles or when their parents are suffering from a mental disorder. “Strengthening families may be one of the most propitious ways of preventing psychological difficulties in children and their parents, as well as improving symptoms among those who already experience emotional or behavioral problems,” suggests a 2016 study. Here are some other ways to help prevent mental conditions in children:
- Changing and improving parental behavior and parenting styles by consistently showing more warmth and care towards the children, making them feel safe and secure in the family.
- Getting emotional and mental support from siblings, relatives, teachers, coaches, friends and other adults.
- Introducing another caregiver in case a parent or the primary caregiver is suffering from mental health problems.
- Getting support from local communities and agencies that will offer help to the child, the parents & other family members.
- Teaching healthy habits like adequate physical activity, nutritious diet, getting enough sleep and socializing.
- Seeking professional help can be highly recommended as a mental health professional can not only help to improve the child’s mental state, but also help the parent practice better parenting habits.
Read also: Mental Health Wellness Guide For Your Child
Overcoming mental health problems in children
There is no doubt that parents can strongly influence their children’s mental health in a variety of ways that can negatively affect their adult lives in the long run. Although it can be challenging to overcome toxic parenting habits or to deal with mental disorders in parents, seeking medical attention can help both the child and the parent equally. With the right guidance and counseling, you can build a better, healthier, and more positive life for your child and for yourself.