This is a time of year when holidays can bring out an increased concern for others and a generous spirit in many people. Organizations often collect toys and other gifts and give them to needy children or to underpriviledged families. There is an interesting commentary in this month's Current Psychiatry by William Campbell entitled "Remember the kids when parents are ill." He reminds us that in families where a psychiatric disorder can cause functional impairment in a parent, their ability to care for dependent children can also be somewhat compromised.
While his article is short and leaves the reader wishing that he had developed his ideas more, the message is an important one that can help make a difference in a child's life. Often information about the children of mentally ill parents is anecdotal but there is a research base that serves to highlight some of the needs of these kids.
A paper from Finland, examines the coping mechanisms and resilience of children of a mentally ill parent and a Swedish study that states there is an urgent need for psychiatric services to initiate parental issues in programs for treatment and rehabilitation to ensure that the specific needs of minor children are met. A study from Clark Insititute in Toronto, Canada, suggests that "children of the mentally ill constitute a group neglected by mental health care providers." Another study from a Toronto group last month suggests that we need to rethink our attitudes and approaches to these children. That we should think of them not as "passive, developing, 'unfinished' persons" but as "complex young persons who have competencies as well as vulnerabilities linked to their developmental stages."
A recent article from the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry published on Medscape discusses the SMILES group program for children with mentally ill parents or siblings. The Simplifying Mental Illness + Life Enhancement Skills program, is for children with a mentally ill parent or sibling. It is a 3-day program that aims to increase children's knowledge of mental illness and to better equip them with life skills considered beneficial for coping in their family.