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30% of Northern Ireland children have mum with mental illness - highest rate in UK

More than a quarter of children in Northern Ireland have a mother with a mental illness
More than a quarter of children in Northern Ireland have a mother with a mental illness
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

More than a quarter of children in Northern Ireland have a mother with a mental illness, according to new research.

This is the highest proportion of maternal mental illness of any UK region.

In a study published in the Lancet Public Health, researchers from Manchester University examined children born between January 1, 1991, and December 31, 2015 registered on the primary care Clinical Practice Research Datalink.

The study found that just over half of all UK children will have had a mother who has experienced mental illness by the age of 16.

In Northern Ireland, 29.8% of children have a mother with a mental illness. This is followed by Scotland at 26% and the East Midlands at 25.4%.

Levels were the lowest in London at 16.8%.

The study also found that the prevalence of maternal mental illness correlates with levels of deprivation. Multiple studies in recent years have found that Northern Ireland is the most deprived region in the UK.

According to the research, the number of children exposed to maternal mental illness has increased substantially between 2005 and 2017.

Study author Dr Matthias Pierce said: “As well as the consequences of having a mother suffering from mental health problems, these children face a number of adversities, including living in poverty and having a teenage parent.

“While many of these children are very resilient, these children are more likely to suffer from a range of negative life outcomes, including poorer physical and mental health, lower educational attainment and reduced quality of life.”

Across the UK, the number of children whose mothers were treated for psychosis or personality disorders increased between 2005 and 2017, as did those with depression or anxiety.

Professor Kathryn Abel, another of the study's authors, said the research was not about stigmatising women suffering from mental health problems, but about "recognising the number and needs of these children".

“This study highlights how reliable, detailed information provides vital information for researchers, policy makers, clinical commissioners, and education and health service providers," she added.

“Appropriate and timely diversion of funds to areas of greatest need is now required to make funding of health care and health research more representative of disease burden across the country.”

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