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Young carer expert calls for new approach to mental health care

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A Loughborough professor has urged health and social care providers to recognise the needs of children and families as part of a wider care package for patients with mental ill health.

Speaking at the unveiling of Dr Adrian Falkov’s The Family Model, Professor Jo Aldridge called for those treating mental ill health to consider the needs of the immediate family as well as those of the patient.

It is estimated that up to 30% of adults with mental illness have dependent children (Family Action, 2011), and the impact of parental mental illness on children can be particularly detrimental - for example, impaired psycho-social development, under achievement at school, and poor transition into adulthood.

Professor Aldridge, who is Director of the Young Carers Research Group (YCRG) at Loughborough University, champions the needs of children living with a mentally ill parent.

Her research focuses on the needs of these young carers and her studies with the YCRG have helped Dr Falkov build his case for The Family Model.

“We need to move away from the traditional medical model of treating the patient to a broader discourse of parental mental health and child welfare,” she said.

“Our research shows children living with and caring for parents with mental ill health are not at any inevitable risk of harm.

“By reviewing the needs of the children as part of a wider care plan, we can make sure they get the support they need to remain within the family unit and at the same time experience childhood.

“This approach works for other models of care, for multiple sclerosis and cancer patients. We now want it to be adopted for mental health.”

The Family Model: Managing the impact of parental mental health on children was launched today (Friday 13 September). The Family Model was originally developed as part of the Crossing Bridges training materials.