Education staff a key touchpoint for parents with mental health difficulties
10 December 2018
Parents experiencing mental health difficulties are more likely to interact with early childhood and school education staff around decisions and advice about their children, according to a new analysis from the Parenting Research Centre.
The analysis looked in depth at findings from the Centre’s study of 2600 parents. It found nearly 60% of parents with poorer mental health actively seek help from educators compared with 43% of parents with better mental health. In addition, 74% of parents with poorer mental health look to educators for information or advice compared with 66% of parents with better mental health.
“This analysis shows that educators are an important source of support for parents with mental health difficulties,” said Parenting Research Centre Principal Research Specialist Dr Catherine Wade.
“They are particularly important because parents with poorer mental health – especially those experiencing current psychological distress – are less likely to have someone close to them that they turn to when they have problems in their lives. They are also less likely to seek information or help about their child from family members – including their own partners.”
The Parenting Today in Victoria Study of 2600 parents found that mental health issues among parents were common. While most parents reported good mental health, two in every five had experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety or substance addiction since having children. And more than a quarter said they were experiencing moderate to serious psychological distress.
This new analysis of the Study shows that despite being more likely to seek help from educators, parents with poorer mental health feel less comfortable doing so than those with better mental health. They are also marginally less likely to be satisfied with the help they receive (79% compared with 83% of parents with better mental health). But overall satisfaction with educators is high.
“When education staff recognise the barriers these parents face and have mechanisms in place to support them, this has enormous potential to help the entire family,” Dr Wade said.
“Just how much a child is put at risk by their parent’s mental health difficulties depends on how much support the family has. We do know that parents who struggle with mental health issues are less likely to be confident and effective in their parenting role. This affects how patient or critical they are how much time they spend playing with their children.
“If we can embed evidence-based information and support about parent mental health into the places where parents go for information – including schools, early education centres and playgroups – we will increase the positive impact for both parents and their children.”
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