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Parental mental health: disruptions to parenting and outcomes for children


Marjorie Smith, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, 27–28 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA, UK


The association between parental mental health problems and negative outcomes for children has been long known. This paper addresses three issues in relation to this. First, the scale of the problem is outlined, in terms of both the prevalence of mental health problems in parents and the likelihood of children exhibiting negative outcomes in these circumstances. Secondly, the specificity, or lack of it, of particular outcomes in the child in relation to different parental mental health problems is explored. Thirdly, the paper focuses on the importance of disruptions to parenting as a mechanism in the transmission of mental health problems to negative impacts on the child. Examples are given of how parenting is disrupted in non-clinical community populations, and the subsequent impacts on the child. The case is made for the preventative importance of parenting and family support in mediating between parental mental health problems and negative impacts on the child.