Children whose parents have mental illness tend to have a greater risk of injuries compared to their peers, according to a new study led by Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
The risk for injuries peaks during the first year of life, after which it declines but remains somewhat elevated up to age 17. The findings emphasize the need for parents with mental illness to receive extra support around child injury prevention measures as well as early treatment of mental disorders among expecting parents.
Between 7 to 11 percent of all children in Sweden have at least one parent diagnosed with a mental illness, according to the researchers’ estimates.
Prior efforts to protect at-risk children have focused primarily on preventing neglect and maltreatment, and to a lesser degree on safeguarding kids from accidents and injuries. However, according to the researchers, it might be possible to reduce child injuries by helping parents with mental illness to adopt preventive safety measures in their homes and outside.
“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, Ph.D. student at the Department of Global Public Health and the study’s corresponding author.
“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.”
Children up to one-year-old had a 30 percent higher risk of injuries if they had a parent with mental illness. The risk declined with age but remained somewhat elevated (6 percent) for children ages 13 to 17.
The research team found that the risk of injuries was slightly higher among kids whose parents had more common mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety and stress-related illnesses, compared to those with more serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. The risk was also slightly higher for maternal compared to paternal mental illness.
In addition, the risk was somewhat higher for more uncommon types of injuries, such as interpersonal violence, compared to more common injuries like falls or traffic accidents. The research team notes, however, that violence-related injuries are also rare in families with mental illness.
The study, which was conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Manchester in the U.K., tracked 1.5 million children living in Sweden and born between 1996 to 2011. Of these, more than 330,000 had at least one parent diagnosed with a mental illness during that period or five years earlier.
The results do not explain why children of parents with mental illness have a greater risk of injuries. Some plausible explanations may be that some parents with mental illness struggle to adequately supervise their children and to childproof their homes, according to the researchers.
“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 says. “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.
“We have also not studied whether certain medications for mental illness, especially those with an impact on alertness and attention, could affect the children’s risk of injury, and this should be studied in future research.”
Source: Karolinska Institutet