Data on Maternal Mental Health Issues Key to Securing Positive Education Outcomes

Researchers from the UNESCO Centre Children and Youth Programme (CYP) at the University of Ulster have said that the lack of data on the number of children in Northern Ireland who have a parent with a mental health problem may hide a major issue which can have damaging educational, economic and societal outcomes.  Research in the United Kingdom suggested that over one third of all adults with mental health problems are parents and that an estimated two million children live in households where at least one parent has a mental health problem.  Speaking at a joint seminar with leading mental health charity, Aware Defeat Depression in Belfast, which discussed the links between maternal mental health, poverty and education, Dr Ulf Hansson from the UNESCO Centre at the University of Ulster stated:

“Using the United Kingdom average as an estimate of prevalence levels in Northern Ireland, it is possible that between 60,000 and 75,000 children are living with a parent with mental ill health.  This means that some children will assume a caring role within the family which can impede their educational experience and affect their general well being. Poor mental health tends to co-exist with low income, social disadvantage and low social support, as well as, less effective means of coping with psychological distress and accessing the social and economic supports available to families.  In these circumstances, school can be an important protective factor in the lives of children and young people and can provide a useful setting for intervention and support.”

Dr Hansson concluded:  “There is a need for better prevalence data on the number of children who have a parent with a mental health problem. As a result, the adult in their role as a parent is neither adequately recognised nor fully addressed in policy and service provision, with implications for the outcomes for children.  The collation of a comprehensive data set would provide a more detailed representation of the numbers of individuals with a mental health problem, but also their characteristics, including parental status, socio-economic status, and the nature and duration of their condition. Placing this data alongside joint protocols between health and education departments, staff training and appropriate educational interventions within schools, and targeted interventions for families experiencing mental health problems can help further buttress current policy initiatives being undertaken by government. By doing so we can ensure that potentially vulnerable children and young people have access to a full suite of supports, both at school and in the home.”

Partnering with the UNESCO Centre to launch the report is leading mental health charity Aware Defeat Depression. Chief Executive Siobhan Doherty believes that positive mental health for the mother is important for the development of the child. Siobhan stated:

“Aware Defeat Depression offers a Mood Matters in Pregnancy programme to parents planning for the arrival of a baby. The objective is to provide parents with the tools and self-help strategies to maintain good mental health which in turn will benefit the development of the child. “The programme is designed to raise awareness of the importance of mental health in parents before, during and after birth.  It highlights how their mental health can help develop the good mental health of the child, and the importance of this to the child from the ages of 0-5.

“We also deliver a CBT based programme called ‘Living Life to The Full’ which is designed to help those with mild to moderate depression.  A lot of mothers with post-natal depression and fathers have completed this programme and often comment on how it has transformed their life.   We feel privileged to have Jenny Thompson speak at the UNESCO Centre event.  Jenny has taken the very brave step to speak out about her experience of post natal depression and share her personal story.  Jenny completed our Living Life to the Full programme following post-natal depression and she will talk about the impact the programme had on her life.”

Jenny Thompson has used the services of Aware Defeat Depression when she completed the Living Life to The Full programme after having post-natal depression. Jenny said, “I would not have been able to get through the post-natal depression on medication alone. The Living Life to The Full programme really helped me and for that I will always be grateful. “Things were tough for me after the birth of my second son, I felt trapped and isolated and there was just darkness, this terrible blackness, it was horrible. There was no light in my life and everything was just work to me, a duty, something that I had to do and I didn’t see it ever ending.

“My health visitor suggested that I take a course called Living Life to the Full run by Aware Defeat Depression. It was a six-week course and it was a big help to me. It taught me Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques which give me tools to manage my mood. It taught me that I could change how I thought about things and that this would then change how I felt and my behaviour as a result.  I had more than one light bulb moment on this programme, and I can say with honesty, that it changed my life.”



Notes to Editors:

1. CYP is an independent, academic collaboration between the two UNESCO Chairs in Ireland at the University of Ulster and NUI Galway.  Using a multidisciplinary framework the Programme draws upon the knowledge and expertise of researchers from a wide range of disciplines on issues affecting children and youth.

2. Full copies of the CYP Report, ‘ Maternal Mental Health and Poverty: The Impact on Children’s Educational Outcomes’, can be accessed at the dedicated programme website –

3. Aware Defeat Depression is one of Northern Ireland’s leading mental health charities, working since 1996 to support all those in Northern Ireland affected by depression.

4. CYP and Aware Defeat Depression co hosted a seminar to discuss the links between maternal mental health, poverty and education on Wednesday 22nd January in the Stormont Hotel Belfast.  An audience of 90 senior policy makers, academics, stakeholders and experts in the field of mental health and education were in attendance.

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