Maternal mental illness: one in four UK children have a mother with mental illness

Maternal mental illness: one in four UK children have a mother with mental illness
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According to University of Manchester, one in four UK children between the ages of 0 and 16 have a mother with a mental illness – could this research help address maternal mental illness?

Published in the Lancet Public Health, just over a half of UK children will have had a mother who has experienced mental illness by the age of 16. The study also revealed significant regional variation: it estimated the proportion of children with a mother who was experiencing maternal mental illness was highest in Northern Ireland at 29.8%.

Maternal mental illness

The areas of the UK with the highest prevalence of maternal mental illness coincide with areas with the highest levels of deprivation and adult mental illness in general, as shown by previous research.

The other highest regions were estimated to be Scotland (26%), the East Midlands (25.4%), the South West (25·3%), and the North West of England (251%). It was lowest in London (16.8%) and the south east of England (21.2%).

Children born into poverty, or who are offspring of teenage mothers, were most likely to be exposed to maternal mental illness.

Details of the study

The study examined children aged 0–16 years born between 1 Jan 1991, and 31 Dec 2015, registered on the primary care Clinical Practice Research Datalink between 2005 and 2017.
They identified 783,710 children registered in the UK CPRD mother-baby link database, and included 547,747 children and 381,685 mothers in their analysis.

Study author Dr Matthias Pierce from The University of Manchester said: “As well as the consequences of having a mother suffering from mental health problems, these children face a number of adversities, including living in poverty and having a teenage parent.

“While many of these children are very resilient, these children are more likely to suffer from a range of negative life outcomes, including poorer physical and mental health, lower educational attainment and reduced quality of life.”

The study also revealed that the number of children exposed to maternal mental illness increased substantially between 2005 and 2017.

An increase in anxiety and depression

The number of children of mothers with depression or anxiety increased from 22.2% between 2005 and 2007 to 25.1% between 2015 and 2017.

Although serious mental illness is rare, the number of children exposed to mothers treated for psychosis increased substantially, as did the numbers of children exposed to mothers with personality disorders.

Professor Kathryn Abel, from The University of Manchester said: “Our work is not about stigmatising women suffering from mental health problems, but about recognising the number and needs of these children.

“This study highlights how reliable, detailed information provides vital information for researchers, policy makers, clinical commissioners, and education and health service providers.

“Appropriate and timely diversion of funds to areas of greatest need is now required to make funding of health care and health research more representative of disease burden across the country.”


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