Mental State of Mothers deeply Influence Kids’ Well Being
The children of mentally ill parents especially mothers have a higher risk of developing mental illnesses themselves over the course of their lives. This known risk must be taken into account in the practical provision of health care.
The increased psychiatric risk for children of mentally ill parents is due partly to genetic influences and partly to an impairment of the parent-child interaction because of the parent’s illness. Furthermore, adverse factors are more frequent in these families, as well as a higher risk for child abuse. Genetic and psychosocial factors interact with one another. For example, genetic factors moderate environmental effects; that is, the effect of adverse environmental factors depends on the genetic substrate.
Infancy and early childhood
The following alterations of parental behavior affect the child during infancy and early childhood:
- Depression reduces maternal empathy and emotional availability.
- The mother’s ability to perceive the child’s signals, interpret them correctly, and respond promptly and appropriately is limited.
- Maternal eye contact, smiling, speaking, imitating, caressing, and interactive games are all reduced compared to the normal situation.
The kindergarten and elementary school years
The following alterations of parental behavior commonly affect the child in this developmental phase:
- Mothers tend to perceive their children as being more than normally difficult.
- Verbal communication is reduced.
- In the context of new developmental tasks, mothers find it difficult to control their children’s behavior and to set boundaries.
- Mothers sometimes react with excessive anxiety and restrict their children’s expansive tendencies too much (vacillation between permissive and controlling child-rearing styles).
- Positive comments that reinforce the child’s self-esteem are more rarely expressed.
Time and again, one sees children who are able to overcome these stresses without any apparent damage, even under the least favorable environmental circumstances. The concept of resilience indicates that many individuals undergo a relatively good mental development even though they have been exposed to risk factors that can often cause serious illness. The goal of resilience research is to identify the mechanisms that explain this variability of developmental course, and thereby to point the way to effective preventive strategies.
Preventive strategies for the risk group that consists of the children of mentally ill parents must involve reducing the psychosocial stresses to which they are frequently subject, as well as reinforcing individual and societal protective factors in order to enable normal development. To date, however, there are very few preventive strategies for this risk group whose effectiveness has been tested in randomized, controlled studies