BJPsych Bulletin
Children of adults with severe mental illness: mental health, help seeking and service use
Vicki Cowling, Ernest S. L. Luk, Cristea Mileshkin, Peter Birleson



We aimed to determine the prevalence of childhood mental health problems in children of parents registered with an Australian area mental health service, and to study the parents’ help-seeking and service use for their children. Parents were recruited through their case managers, and asked to complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), the Service Utilisation Questionnaire and the Help-seeking Questionnaire.


A quarter of the children were in the clinical range of the SDQ total scores, with high sub-scale scores. However, 63% of the parents reported reluctance to seek help, and 19% reported not using services.


Children of parents with mental illness are at higher risk of childhood psychiatric disorders. Assessment of the child at the time of referral of the parent is an opportunity for problem identification, parental education, and early intervention.

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