Mental health torment for parents

31st January 1997 at 00:00
Millions of parents whose children have mental health problems are struggling with guilt, isolation and terrible uncertainty, according to a new study. The current rhetoric of "good parenting" is meaningless when set against the meagre support parents are given, the Mental Health Foundation states. Many are driven to attempt suicide.

It is estimated that 2 million children in the UK have some form of mental health problem and the evidence suggests the figure is rising. Two per cent of those under the age of 16 (250,000) have severe mental problems. Between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of adolescents suffer from major depression; 2-4 per cent have attempted suicide. Since 1982, suicides have risen by 75 per cent in young men aged 15 to 24.

Bulimia nervosa affects 1 per cent of adolescent girls and young women, and 0.5 to 1 per cent of 12 to 19-year-olds suffer with anorexia nervosa.

"All the parents blamed themselves in some way for their child's mental health problems," the report states. "These feelings existed naturally but had often been exacerbated by professional attitudes - GPs, psychiatrists, and family therapists - towards them."

Parents referred frequently to themselves as "coping and getting on with it." But they acknowledged that the effects of caring for a young person with mental health problems had often been devastating. All had experienced feelings of despair and isolation: five of the 30 parents interviewed had seriously contemplated suicide.

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