Help for children whose parents have mental health problems
Mental health services for adults now strive to give more attention to the situation of children whose parents have mental health problems. A research project called The Effective Family, with funding from the Academy of Finland, has provided training to thousands of welfare workers around Finland and developed new methods for improving the situation of children whose parents have mental health problems.
Methods include a ‘Let’s Talk about Children’ intervention with the parents, a family intervention with the entire family, peer groups and courses for parents and children, and Family Networking, which helps activate the family’s own network or bring in the relevant authorities. “Our aim is that, whenever parents seek help for their own problems, welfare workers should also ask about their children and support the parents in their parenting,” explains Research Professor Tytti Solantaus, the project leader.
During the course of the research project, it has been demonstrated that the methods concerned are suitable for use in mental health services for adults and that they have a favourable impact on the well-being of families and children. According to Solantaus, this is a question not just of introducing new methods, but of bringing about a fundamental attitude change in mental health services.
“When a parent suffers from a mental illness or intoxicant abuse problems, it can expose children to developmental problems, psychiatric disorders and somatic illnesses both in childhood and later in life. The mental health services are often the first to know about a family’s problems but so far, the services have not been geared towards dealing with the considerable risk of mental illness that centres on the family’s children. It is, however, perfectly feasible to provide solid support for parents and children within the scope of mental health services and services for intoxicant abusers, if the provision of such support is accepted as part of the responsibilities of services for adults.”
Counselling a crucial part of mental health work
The counselling sessions in mental health work provide an opportunity for welfare workers to determine whether a parent has the resources to care for their children. Marja Uotila, a nurse and psychotherapist at the psychiatric outpatient clinic at Jorvi Hospital, says that, at the clinic, care begins with a survey of the patient’s needs, which includes a ‘Let’s Talk about Children’ intervention. “When someone with a serious mood disorder seeks hospital care, their main source of anxiety is what is wrong with them. Some people are even unable to talk about it with their spouses. Many single parents with mood disorders need counselling to support them in their parenting role for a very long time.”
According to Tytti Solantaus, the new methods help support parents so that they can tell their families what is at the back of their exhaustion and bad temper; the methods then help the family to solve practical problems and to seek help if necessary. Parents are also given information on what they themselves can do to help their children and where they can get outside help if they need it.
Project worker Kirsi-Marja Iskandar of the ‘Family life’ project at Kalliolan setlementti, a welfare and education NGO, says that children whose parents have substance abuse problems are exposed to a great deal of fear, insecurity, shame and guilt. Parents may also feel fear and guilt, and find it difficult to talk to their children about a painful issue that affects the entire family. The methods offered by the Effective Family project help people find ways to talk.
- Tytti Solantaus, Research Professor, National Institute for Health and Welfare, tel. +358 (0)20 6107625, email tytti.solantaus(at)thl.fi
- Marja Uotila, psychotherapist, psychiatric outpatient clinic at Jorvi Hospital, tel. +358 (0)9 471 81607, email marja.uotila(at)hus.fi
- Sami Räsänen, head of the psychiatric clinic at Oulu University Hospital, tel. +358 (0)8 315 6706, email sami.rasanen(at)ppshp.fi
- Kirsi-Marja Iskandar, project worker in the ‘Family life’ project at Kalliolan setlementti, tel. +358 (0)46 8512 379, email kirsi-marja.iskandar(at)kalliola.fi
Academy of Finland Communications
Tea Kalska, trainee
tel. +358 (0)9 7748 8401