By Hasu Ramji, ARC KSS Public Theme Advisor
How amazing to be able to see an army of like-minded, dedicated researchers descending upon Brighton for a two-day Parental Mental Health Network Conference, last November, to share their research studies, ideas and discuss ways forward to make a real difference in the world of parental mental health and, more specifically, to look at how we can prevent poor mental health running in families.
The event, organised by the University of Sussex, National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration Kent, Surrey and Sussex (ARC KSS), Kavli Trust and The British Psychological Society, was buzzing with enthusiasm; despite the wide and varied challenges that researchers face in trying to conduct meaningful research in this much neglected area.
Getting together a sufficiently large population base of people who are experiencing mental health problems associated with the ripple effect on their family members, so that ARC researchers can carry out research and greatly widen the scope for identifying useful interventions to make a dramatic, if not, life-changing difference, to patients and their families, requires the determination to change the minds of mental health providers and policy makers.
The regular references about stigma; patient confidentiality and trust; and the mental health sector having a Cinderella service; had all the echoes of similar frustrations long being familiar to caring families over many years. Nevertheless, it was good to observe the army of hero researchers being undeterred in their quest to find a better way in sharing their ideas in the room. To see and hear the dedicated efforts of researchers was, of course, truly heartwarming to me - a mere public advisor battered and bruised with 25 years' lived experience in caring for a wife, with a diagnosis of bipolar schizo-affective disorder, combined with lived caring experience for my son, with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia for 20 years, and still going!
In the room, two people briefly shared their personal experiences – one by a parent carer whose partner’s mental illness having had a huge impact on their children; and the second presenter courageously shared her experience of parenting, while battling with her own mental health challenges. These stories are a serious, reality reminder that behind each patient – there is a real person with life aspirations connected to many other people who also become hugely impacted on a lifelong basis. Their stories give a true meaning about why researchers in the ARC KSS, and its network, should continue to pursue their work relentlessly, despite all obstacles and hurdles that come in their way. Only then, can we overcome the tremendous ignorance and the relative indifference that exists among many policy makers rippling into large pockets of society.
Finally, what is the significance of adequately supporting a parent with a mental health condition? Apart from deserving parity with any other health condition, it ensures that their children do not become blighted by the tsunami effect, but instead actually blossom – after all, they are our society’s future.
So, a huge vote of thanks to all ARC KSS researchers and colleagues in their network who were gathered in Brighton for their passion, dedication and vision. Long may it continue.
Find out more about the ARC KSS's parenting and children's mental health research projects here.