Families with parental mental illness : supporting children in psychiatric and social services

Sammanfattning: Children living with a parent with a mental illness can face difficulties. Parentalmental illness may influence the parents’ ability to cope with family life, where theparents’ awareness of their illness plays an important role. Family interventionsprovided by psychiatric and children’s social care services can be a way to supportthese children, making them feel less burdened, and improving the relationshipswithin the family. The aim of this thesis was to illuminate how children infamilies with a parent with a mental illness are supported in psychiatric and socialservices, especially by means of family interventions, and how families experiencethe support. Study I explored how professionals in adult psychiatric outpatient servicesdeal with children and families when a parent has a mental illness. The findingsshowed that professionals balanced between establishing, and maintaining,a relationship with the patient and fulfilling the legal obligations towards thepatient’s children. Asking the patient about their children could be experiencedas intrusive, and involving the patient’s family in the treatment could be seen asa dilemma, in relation to the patient. Efforts were made to enhance the familyperspective, and when the patient’s family and children joined the treatment thisrequired flexibility from the professional. Study II examined how professionals in children’s social care services experienceworking with children and families when a parent has a mental illness. The socialworkers’ objective was to identify the needs of the children. No specific attentionwas paid to families with parental mental illness; they were supported in thesame way as other families. When the parental mental illness became difficult tohandle both for the parent and the social worker, the latter had to set the child’sneeds aside in order to support the parent. Interagency collaboration seemed likea successful way to support these families, but difficult to achieve. Study III investigated if patients in psychiatric services that are also parentsof underage children, are provided with child-focused interventions or involvedin interagency collaboration between psychiatric and social services and childand adolescent psychiatry. The findings showed that only 12.9% of the patientsregistered as parents in Psykiatri Skåne had registered children under the ageof 18 years. One fourth of these patients had been provided with child-focusedinterventions in psychiatric service, and 13% of them were involved in interagencycollaboration. If a patient received child-focused interventions from the psychiatricservices, the likelihood of being involved in interagency collaboration was fivetimes greater as compared to patients receiving no child-focused intervention.Study IV explored how parents and their underage children who were supportedwith family interventions experienced these interventions. The results showedthat parents experiencing mental illness were eager to find support in explainingto and talking with their children about their mental illness, although the supportfrom the psychiatric service varied. Both children and other family membersappreciated being invited to family interventions. After such an intervention, theyexperienced the atmosphere in the family as less strained and found it easier tocommunicate with each other about difficulties. Unfortunately, the participatingpartners felt that they were left without support specifically targeted at them. The thesis showed that there is a gap between how professionals deal withquestions concerning these families and their support, and the parents’ and thefamilies’ needs to receive support in handling the parental mental illness in thefamily. The psychiatric and social services need to expand their approach andwork with the whole family, in order to meet the needs of the child and otherfamily members involved.