Parental mental illness: a review of barriers and issues for working with families and children


  • D. MAYBERY phd,

    Corresponding author
    1. Associate Professor of Rural Health, Monash University Department of Rural and Indigenous Health & Gippsland Medical School, Monash University Australia, and
    Search for more papers by this author
  • A. REUPERT phd

    1. Senior Lecturer, Monash University Department of Rural and Indigenous Health, Monash University Australia, Monash, Vic. Australia
    Search for more papers by this author

D. Maybery
Gippsland Medical School
Monash University School of Rural and Indigenous Health
PO Box 973
Vic. 3825


Accessible summary

For the psychiatric workforce to become family focused (particularly in relation to children) there is a clear need for family sensitive policies and procedures, managerial and organizational support and well-targeted and sustained workforce training. However, there are multiple barriers to the adult mental health workforce becoming family focused including:

  • • Some adult mental health services do not identify consumers who are parents and subsequently do not respond to children, parenting and family needs.
  • • Organizations often do not have adequate family and child friendly policies and procedures.
  • • The adult mental health workforce lacks skills and knowledge about families, children and parenting.
  • • The workforce needs to increase encouragement of consumers to include family members and dependent children in treatment of the ill parent including the provision of psycho-education.


Many consumers of psychiatric services are parents, making these services the opportunistic point for supporting consumers' children. While evidence suggests that assisting such children improves their mental health, there is a large gulf between what psychiatric services should (or could) provide and what they do in practice. This paper summarizes the constraining barriers and issues for the psychiatric workforce according to: (1) policy and management; (2) interagency collaboration; (3) worker attitude, skill and knowledge; (4) the parent-consumer; and (5) the consumer's family, including children. Potential solutions are presented, with a particular focus on the hierarchical nature of these barriers. Recommendations are made, including organizational audits to identify the most pressing barriers that impede family sensitive practice.