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Children and mental illness

Beliefs demystified

1. A child who has a parent with a mental illness is more likely to have adjustment issues.
True. Studies confirm that the presence of mental illness in the father or mother, environmental factors, stressful situations and low family socio-economic status are among the most significant risk factors that can negatively affect a child. (Guide to Preventing Adjustment Issues for Children with Immediate Family Members with Mental Illness, 1999).

2. All children who live with a parent with a mental illness will experience significant problems as adults.
False. Despite being at greater risk, many children are resilient, that is, they develop the ability to bounce back from stress in a proactive rather than passive manner. Strength, empathy, compassion, tolerance, understanding and an appreciation for life are all part of their life journey. Studies have shown that higher intelligence and strong interpersonal skills appear to protect children from adverse outcomes in both the short and long term. (Beardslee & Podorefsky, 1998; Radke-Yarrow & Sherman, 1990.)

3. Parents with mental illness are totally different from other parents.
False. Parents with mental illness face similar challenges as other parents and have similar needs and aspirations. They see their role as extremely important. However, they face challenges specific to their illness that impair their experiences as parents and influence their relationships with their children. Ongoing professional care for parents and their children allows for screening and assessment of the family situation, so that parenting skills can be developed and risk factors that could be harmful to the child can be identified. (Mallen, 1999; Mowbray et al., 1995; Nicholson et al., 1998)

4. Informing children about their parent’s mental illness is essential.
True. Children are aware that their family life is different from that of others. They also have to deal with many changes in behaviour related to their parent’s mental illness. If they are not informed about the illness, they may create false explanations that can be harmful to their development. Children need to be given honest, clear and concrete explanations that take into account their age and ability to understand. (Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal-Santé publique 2006)

5. A person with a mental illness is less intelligent than the average person.
False. Those affected by a mental illness experience a psychological disorder that manifests itself in many forms. For example, an individual may experience delusional states or lose touch with reality. However, their intelligence quotient (IQ) is not affected. This state influences their autonomy and ability to relate to others, however. No one is immune to mental illness, no matter how smart they are.

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