NUI Galway researchers issue call to families living with mental health difficulties to aid them in their work

Sep 24 2013 Posted: 09:52 IST

Researchers seek to document the social, emotional and behavioural well-being of children and young people living with a parent with a mental health difficulty

A significant number of children are currently living with a parent with a mental health difficulty. These children are thought to be at an increased risk of developing emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties. Estimates suggest that 40-60% of these children may be at increased risk, with 25-50% of those likely to experience a psychological disorder in childhood, adolescence and/or adulthood.

Who is it aimed at and why?

This research is aimed primarily at children between the ages of 7-17 years who live with a parent with a diagnosed mental health difficulty. Parents and practitioners supporting the children will also be invited to contribute. By and large the voice of the child, their social, emotional and behavioural well-being, remains absent from research in this context.

What is known about children's experiences is largely based on the contributions of adults speaking on their behalf via adult centered methods. However, research suggests discrepancies between what children say they want and need in this context and what parents and practitioners think they want or need.

The research, approved by the Research Ethics Committee at NUI Galway, is being carried out under the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland, Galway. A core focus of the centre is in undertaking research in the area of family support and in focusing on prevention and early intervention for children who may be experiencing adversity making it a suitable environment for this research. 

How will it work?

The research will focus on children’s experiences of their own lives and will use a novel approach that will provide a framework to listen to them and treat them as experts in their own lives. The approach will give the children themselves the opportunity to express their views visually, symbolically and verbally. There will be a series of task and talk-centred activities including photography, artwork and mapping to combine with informal interviews.

Children will be invited by the practitioner (e.g. mental health practitioner/social worker/general practitioner) involved with their parent to meet with the researcher on four separate occasions.  A choice of three locations will be offered: the family home, the workplace of the practitioner involved, or the child and family research centre in NUI Galway. It is up to the child and parent to decide whether they would like to meet with me alone or with someone.

In light of sensitivities surrounding the research topic, the participation of all will be treated with the strictest of confidence. Consent from practitioners, parents and children, is a prerequisite to taking part in the project and will be under constant review.

How will this help the children who participate?

The direct benefit for children who choose to participate in the research is being given the space and freedom to express themselves in a non-intrusive way. The children control what they choose to share and how they choose to share it. Having this control, and the creative ways through which their stories are to be told may have potential therapeutic benefits.

However, it should be noted that this project is not in any way attempting to provide a therapeutic intervention to children and young people. Rather, it is anticipated that the benefits will be evidenced in how the overall findings can be used by practitioners and services in order to support children, improving service provision and in turn their lives.


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