Parental Mental Illness

Mental illness does not in itself indicate an inability to be a successful parent. It also does not mean that your child is viewed as being at a definite risk of harm just because you have been classified as suffering with a mental illness. 

Mental illness can be treated to ensure that the child does not come to harm.  It is when the mental illness affects a parent’s ability to parent a child to a standard that is considered acceptable that concerns are usually raised. 

However, statistically speaking, where a parent is suffering with chronic or severe mental health problems, the children are more likely to be at risk of significant harm: a study of 100 child deaths as a result of abuse or neglect showed clear evidence of a parent suffering with mental illness in one-third of cases.

When considering if a child is considered to be at risk of significant harm or of having their wellbeing adversely affected as a result of the parent’s mental illness the child may: 

  • Feature within parental delusions;
  • Be involved in his/her parent’s obsessive-compulsive behaviours;
  • Become a target for parental aggression or rejection;
  • Have caring responsibilities inappropriate to his/her age;
  • Witness disturbing behaviour arising from the mental illness;
  • Be neglected physically and/or emotionally by an unwell parent;
  • Not live with the unwell parent, but has contact.

Where a pregnant mother has previously been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, the unborn child may be equally considered to be at risk where the mental illness may results in a known risk or harm to themselves and/ or others, including the unborn child both in utero and after birth. 

The fundamental issue is whether the mental illness causes risk or harm to a child and if that risk or harm can be managed or not to reduce that risk to ensure that a child is safe.

It is important that any mental illness is identified and appropriate treatment provided.