As I begin to create my place within the social work profession and the field of mental health, I have noticed that a specific population is not being addressed or shown concern within the United States: children and adolescents of parents with a mental illness.
I fall into this category.
The reason I feel compelled to shed light onto this population is because, at the moment, no one is. No one is addressing the fact that children are impacted by parents with a mental illness.
As a child and as an adolescent, I was not fully aware of what depression was. I did not understand what it meant when my parent told me they had depression. All I understood was that it was difficult for them to get out of bed (but didn’t understand why) and noticed that they were not laughing or smiling as much as they use to (but I didn’t know what changed). There were no clear or concise answers to explain.
The knowledge of what mental illness was, at the time, was not understood until I was in an undergraduate psychology course during my freshman year. From the time my parent told me that they were experiencing depression until the time I learned fully what it was, eight years had passed. It is not the fault of my parent or family members for not having explained further; I believe it was the stigma surrounding mental illness that prevented them from explaining further. It is still the stigma that prevents the uncomfortable discussions, like that one so many years ago, from occurring even today (maybe until now). I also think that my family wanted to protect me from the truth of our reality.
Even after having learned what depression and mental illness was at the age of 18, five more years passed until I learned about two amazing resources that would have been helpful for me. The two resources that can assist children and adolescents in gaining a clearer understanding about what their parent(s) and family is experiencing is an Australian’s national initiative called Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
1. The Australian initiative called Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI) promotes support and resources for children of parents who are experiencing a mental illness (COPMI, 2012). To learn more information and have access to their resources, check out the website at www.copmi.net.au.
2. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers support groups for (1) spouses and partners, (2) families and friends, or (3) parents who have a child who is experiencing a mental illness. However, there are no support groups for only children of parents with a mental illness (NAMI, 2013). For more information about the resources and support groups that NAMI provides, please visit their website at www.nami.org to find a location near you.