Origins and History
In 1999, at a key national conference called Keeping the Family in Mind, a group of young people made an angry, passionate presentation about what it meant to be a child caring for a parent experiencing mental illness when adult help arrived:
‘the worst thing was when the mental health services got involved … they came in like the SAS to take our parent, no one explained anything, and worse still no one asked our advice or what we knew.’
The Kidstime Groups and later the Foundation were a response to this impassioned plea for change and visibility.
The scale of the issue
An initial estimate by Aldridge and Becker identified approximately 65,000 young carers of parents with mental illness in England and Wales, with about 1 million children significantly affected. In 2010, the Social Care Institute for Excellence updated this estimate to 2 million children.
The negative impacts of parental mental illness on their children are well documented (Oats, 1997; Nicholson et al, 1999, 2004; Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2011), with 70% of affected young people experiencing one or more of:
Loss of education through poor attendance and emotional distraction.
High levels of anxiety about the parent/s and their own potential of succumbing to the same illness.
Social isolation resulting from stigma, rejection by peers and self-isolation.
Guilt and an excessive sense of personal responsibility.
High levels of subsequent depression.
Fortunately, quite small interventions have been shown to substantially increase a child’s resilience and ability for self-protection. (Quinton and Rutter 1984; Rutter, 1966). Clear information and explanation of the parent’s illness, and of the impact on themselves of the illness and its treatment has been consistently shown to improve resilience (Bostock, 2004; et al.). A study of 11–15 year olds living with a depressed parent, by Garly et al. (1997) found they wanted information and discussion with a knowledgeable but neutral adult to help them understand 4 key aspects of their parent’s illness:
The nature and cause of the illness, including their own feelings of responsibility and vulnerability.
How to recognise the signs of an impending illness.
When a parent should be hospitalised, and what happens when this occurs.
How to manage the illness and its effect on both themselves and their parent.
“It’s the idea that it’s not her [my Mum’s] fault, because it’s not her fault, it’s her illness.”
“Before, I just didn’t want to speak to my mum, or acknowledge her. [Kidstime helped me with] the understanding that she wasn’t in control of it.”
“It was no body’s fault really, it just happened to her [my Mum] and it can happen to 1 in 4 people too.”
Juliet, 11 years old, Kidstime workshop attendee
The Finnish Adoption (Tienari et al., 1994, 2004) study and earlier work by Rutter (Rutter et al Rutter M., 1996, 2004) demonstrated that when relationships in the child’s environment are improved, the child’s future resilience to mental illnesses, even when they carry a genetic vulnerability, is enhanced. But major interventions like adoption are rarely required and in fact quite small interventions can make a significant difference. Even such small interventions as explanation of a parents’ s illness have been shown to significantly improve the child’s mental health.
The Kidstime Foundation has connected with MindEd to link up with resources that can help you with a child who is dealing with their own mental illness. MindEd is somewhere you can find out about common signs of mental health problems affecting children and young people. Important: If you are concerned about someone who is at immediate serious risk you should contact your local support services immediately. To find our more about how to help these children please see here.