· Latest research by PBE for Our Time looking at parental mental illness

· 4m children in the UK, or 1 in 3, have parent with poor mental health

· Long-term costs of up to £11,600 per child without specialist support

· Report calls for better training so professionals can identify problems

A lack of specialist support for children whose mothers experience depression could be costing the UK up to £2 billion a year, according to a new study.

New research by Pro Bono Economics has found that the long-term cost of failing to support an 11-year-old whose mother has experience of depression is around £11,600.

It is estimated that around 160,000 children leaving primary school this year have a mother who has experienced an episode of depression. Without proper support, the social and emotional problems faced by these children could generate long-term costs of up to £1.9bn.

This includes the costs to taxpayers from higher truancy rates and exclusions at school and the increased need for mental health support, as well as costs to the individual through reduced income due to lower wages and poorer employment outcomes.

One in three children under the age of 18 in the UK are estimated to have a parent with poor mental health, equating to around 4 million children nationally.

Studies show that children with parents who have a mental health condition are three times more likely to develop a mental health condition themselves. The experience of successive lockdowns during the pandemic is only likely to have worsened the problem.

Some of these children are picked up by early help services, through social services referrals or if they meet the high threshold of need for NHS child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

But many more simply do not receive the support they need, especially given the current level of demand for CAMHS – with waiting times of more than two years for some young people at risk of suicide.

This is fuelling a “vicious cycle” of intergenerational poor mental health which has a significant cost for the UK economy.

The new PBE study for Our Time, the charity for children of parents with a mental illness, found that failing to provide specialist support for the 160,000 children leaving primary school this year with a mother who has experienced an episode of depression could have long-term costs of as much as £1.9bn.

Among these costs, PBE found £940m would be due to lower wages and £790m would be down to reduced employment opportunities. Other costs include £80m due to smoking, £50m as a result of depression and £30m because of crime.

The total long-term annual costs of failing to support all 11-year-olds with a parent who has poor mental health is likely to be much higher once other conditions and the impact of fathers’ mental health have been taken into account.

Currently, there are significant barriers to identifying, recording and supporting children in the UK who have parents with a mental illness - with no uniform approach in place.

Across the UK, the provision of specialised support for this cohort of children is patchy, with only some local authorities prioritising a targeted approach.

Other countries take a much more proactive, joined-up approach. In New Zealand, there is comprehensive guidance on how to support all families affected by parental mental illness, including training, resources and data collection, as well as a requirement to link families to relevant services. Similarly, in Norway, adult healthcare professionals are required to identify children of an adult with a mental illness and ensure they receive follow-up support.

Our Time, which has developed workshops for families affected by parental mental illness, an outreach programme for schools and professional training, has been running a successful partnership with Westminster City Council for the last six years. This is one of 20 workshops now established across the UK.

Since 2020, Westminster City Council has integrated the charity’s KidsTime Workshops into its provision of family hubs, enabling a joined-up approach and giving families access to tailored, skilled family support.

Our Time is campaigning for better, targeted support for children of parents with a mental illness and a uniform requirement in the UK to identify and record these young people. The charity is also calling for more collaborative working between agencies, along with a commitment to provide specialist training on the issue to all relevant professionals.

Jon Franklin, Chief Economist at PBE, said:

“With one in three children in the UK experiencing a parent with poor mental health, this issue is a crisis for society that has long-term ramifications for children today and in the future.

“The scale of the problem has not been matched by a nationwide approach that can provide solutions. Up and down the country, children are slipping through the net and are simply not receiving the specialist support they need.

“It is fuelling a vicious circle of intergenerational poor mental health which is affecting millions of children and poses a significant cost to the UK economy.

“This is a growing problem which has been clearly identified by Our Time. By engaging with specialist charities on the ground, policymakers can begin to address this costly challenge for society.”

Dympna Cunnane, CEO of Our Time, said:

“Through our work, we see first-hand the impact poor parental mental health can have. These children can live with anxiety about their parent’s illness, or feel they are to blame. They might have significant caring responsibilities; they can face the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, which often leads to isolation and bullying, and an unstable home life impacts on learning at school.

“We also know these consequences can be lifelong, as is evidenced by PBE’s report. It is perhaps not surprising that children in these circumstances are three times more likely to develop mental health conditions themselves.

“However, there is a way to break this cycle. We need to make sure we find these children early and ensure they have the right support, targeted at their specific needs. With this early preventative help, children of parents with a mental illness can go on to live full lives just like any other child.”

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