Children of parents with mental illness are at increased risk for injuries, researchers report.
Risk is highest before 1 year of age, but remains elevated to age 17, according to the new study.
“Our results show there is a need for increased support to parents with mental illness, especially during the first year of life,” said Alicia Nevriana. She is one of the study authors and a Ph.D. student in the global public health department at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
“There are already recommendations for new parents to ensure their children’s safety, but we think there is a need to update these recommendations also by taking into account parents’ mental health,” Nevriana said in an institute news release.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 1.5 million children in Sweden born between 1996 and 2011. More than 330,000 had at least one parent diagnosed with a mental illness during that period or five years earlier.
Those up to age 1 year had a 30% higher risk of injuries if they had a parent with a mental illness when compared with other kids. The risk declined as children got older, but was still 6% higher among those aged 13 to 17, the findings showed.
The risk of injuries was slightly higher if parents had common mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety or stress-related illnesses, than if they had more serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.
And the risk was slightly higher if mothers had mental illness than if fathers had mental illness.
The researchers also reported that the risk was moderately higher for less common types of injuries — such as those caused by interpersonal violence — than for more common injuries, such as those from falls or traffic accidents.
However, violence-related injuries are rare in families with mental illness, the authors stressed in the report published April 8 in the BMJ.
It’s not clear why children of parents with mental illness have a higher risk of injuries. It’s possible that some afflicted parents have difficulty supervising their children and childproofing their homes, the researchers suggested.
“Mental illness is often associated with worse socioeconomic conditions, which might lead to the family living in a less safe in- and outdoor environment or cannot afford some security measures,” Nevriana said.
“We cannot entirely exclude that the higher risks in our study might be partly explained by the family’s socioeconomic conditions, even though we tried to control for socioeconomic factors as best as we could,” she explained.
Nevriana added that future research should look at whether certain medications for mental illness, especially those with an impact on alertness and attention, could affect children’s risk of injury.
Mental Health America has more on living with mental illness.
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