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Children of mentally ill parents – a pilot study of a group intervention program

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Objective:

The transgenerational transmission of mental disorders is one of the most prominent risk factors for the development of psychological disorders. Children of mentally ill parents are a vulnerable high risk group with overall impaired development and high rates of psychological disorders. To date there are only a few evidence based intervention programs for this group overall and hardly any in Germany. We translated the evidence based Family Talk Intervention by Beardslee (2009) and adapted it for groups. First results of this pilot study are presented.

Method:

This investigation evaluates a preventive group intervention for children of mentally ill parents. In a quasi-experimental design three groups are compared: an intervention group (Family Talk Intervention group: n = 28), a Wait Control group (n = 9), and a control group of healthy children (n = 40). Mean age of children was 10.41 years and parental disorders were mostly depressive/affective disorders (n = 30), but a small number also presented with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (n = 7).

Results:

Children of mentally ill parents showed higher rates of internalizing/externalizing disorders before and after the intervention compared to children of parents with no disorders. Post intervention children’s knowledge on mental disorders was significantly enhanced in the Family Talk Intervention group compared to the Wait Control group and the healthy control group. Parental ratings of externalizing symptoms in the children were reduced to normal levels after the intervention in the Family Talk Intervention group, but not in the Wait Control group.

Discussion:

This pilot study of a group intervention for children of mentally ill parents highlights the importance of psycho-education on parental mental disorders for children. Long-term effects of children’s enhanced knowledge about parental psychopathology

Keywords:

children; intervention; mentally ill parents; prevention; transgenerational transmission mental disorder

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Head of the Department of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology at the Philipps University Marburg

What is “transgenerational transmission of mental disorders”?

“The transgenerational transmission of mental disorders refers to the fact that we find higher rates of mental illness in children of parents with a mental illness. That means that the risk for the development of a mental disorder is transmitted to the child. This could be via genetics, or via environmental influences, or via learned behavior, or via a combination of those factors.” – Prof. Dr. Hanna Christiansen

What is the most important finding or conclusion parents should take away from your research?

“The most important finding is that psycho-education, that is explaining the parental disorder to the child, increases knowledge about the disorder and decreases shame and guilt often found in children of parents with a mental illness. Knowledge about the disorder is also associated with better long-term outcome for children of mentally ill parents.” – Prof. Dr. Hanna Christiansen

What is your overall message to parents?

“Please talk with your child and get support for yourself and your family. Studies have shown, that a positive family communication is helpful for children. Effective treatment of the parental mental disorder decreases the risk for the children for developing a disorder themselves. If your children show symptoms of psychological disorders or impairment in important areas of life, please do not hesitate to get help from supportive health professionals.” – Prof. Dr. Hanna Christiansen

Parenting Research.

By | 2017-08-27T23:01:00+00:00 March 7th, 2016|Health, Parenting|0 Comments

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