COPMI - Children of Parents with a Mental Illness - Keeping families in mind

Facts & figures

  • There is currently a lack of systematic data regarding the number of adults utilising Australian mental health services who are also parents of dependant children. Many adult mental health services do not (or have only recently begun to) record whether their clients have children1.
  • Various surveys and audits in the United States of America and in Britain suggest that at least 20% and in some cases up to 50% of adults known to mental health services have children2.
  • Australian surveys have found that between 29% and 35% of mental health services clients are female parents of dependant children under the age of 183-5.
  • In 1995 Cowling et al6 estimated from census data and incidence rates that at least 27,000 Australian children were affected by maternal psychotic illness alone.
  • In 2005, Maybery and Reupert118 estimated that there were between 21 and 23% of children living in Australian households where at least one parent has a mental illness, equating to just over a million children at that time.
  • Not all children of parents with a mental illness will experience difficulties as a result of their parent's health status7.
  • Estimates suggest that between one-third and two-thirds of children of parents known to Adult Mental Health services will experience difficulties, depending on sampling and assessment criteria2.
  • A combination of factors including genetic inheritance, psychosocial adversity, the age of child, the nature of the mental illness, family relationships, and the involvement in the child's life of adults other than the mentally ill parent impact upon the child's risk of mental health problems8-15.
  • The stigmatisation of people with mental illnesses and its negative consequences can also affect all family members16.
  • The care burden on children of parents with a mental illness (especially in sole-parent situations) may greatly affect their participation in education and social life17.


  1. AICAFMHA. Children of parents affected by a mental illness. Scoping Project. Canberra: Australian Infant, Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Association, 2001.
  2. Falkov A, ed. Crossing bridges: Training resources for working with mentally ill parents and their children. Reader for managers, practitioners and trainers. Brighton, East Sussex: Pavilion Publishing for Department of Health, U.K., 1998.
  3. Cowling V, ed. Children of parents with mental illness. Melbourne: The Australian Council for Educational Research, (ACER); 1999.
  4. Hearle J, Plant K, Jenner L, Barkla J, McGrath J. A survey of contact with offspring and assistance with child care among parents with psychotic disorder. Psychiatric Services 1999; 50: 1354-1356.
  5. Farrell GA, Handley C, Hanke A, Hazelton M, Josephs A. The Tasmanian Children's Project Report: The needs of children and adolescents with a parent/carer with a mental illness. Hobart: Tasmanian School of Nursing and the Department of Health and Human Services; 1999.
  6. Cowling VR, McGorry PD, Hay DA. Children of Parents With Psychotic Disorders. Medical Journal of Australia 1995; 163: 119-120.
  7. Anthony EJ, Cohler B. The Invulnerable Child. New York: Guildford Press, 1987.
  8. Beardslee WR, Versage EM, Gladstone TR. Children of affectively ill parents: a review of the past 10 years. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 1998; 37: 1134-41.
  9. Downey G, Coyne JC. Children of depressed parents: An Integrative Review. Psychological Bulletin 1990; 108: 50-76.
  10. Quinton D, Rutter M. Family pathology and child psychiatric disorder: A four-year prospective study. In: Nicol AR, ed.  Attudinal studies in child psychology and psychiatry. Chicester: John Wiley & Sons; 1985: 91-134.
  11. Beck CT. Maternal depression and child behaviour problems: a meta-analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing 1999; 29: 623-9.
  12. Klimes-Dougan B, Free K, Ronsaville D, Stilwell, J, Welsh, C J, Radke-Yarrow, M. Suicidal ideation and attempts: A longitudinal investigation of children of depressed and well mothers. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 1999; 38: 651-659.
  13. Dickstein S, Seifer R, Hayden LC, Schiller, M, Sameroff, AJ, Keitner, G, Miller, I, Rasmussen, S, Matzko, M, Magee, K. Levels of family assessment: II. Impact of maternal psychopathology on family functioning. Journal of Family Psychology 1998; 12: 23-40.
  14. Wals M, Hillegers MHJ, Reichart CG, Ormel, J, Nolen, WA, Verhulst, FC. Prevalence of psychopathology in children of a bipolar parent. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 2001; 40: 1094-1102.
  15. Radke-Yarrow M, Klimes-Dougan B. Parental depression and offspring disorders: A developmental perspective. In: Goodman, Sherryl H. (Ed); Gotlib, Ian H. (Ed). (2002). Children of depressed parents: Mechanisms of risk and implications for treatment. Washington, DC, US: American sychological Association, 2002: 155-173.
  16. Phelan JC, Bromet EJ, Link BG. Psychiatric Illness and Family Stigma. Schizophrenia Bulletin 1998; 24: 115-126. Carers Australia. Young Carers Research Project - Final Report. Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services, 2001.
  17. Maybery, D., A. Reupert, et al. (2005). VicHealth Research Report on Children at Risk in Families affected by Parental Mental Illness. Melbourne, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.
  18. Maybery, D.J, Reupert, A.E, Patrick, K et al. Prevalence of parental mental illness in Australian families. Psychiatric Bulletin, 2009, 33, 22-26.


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