Mental Illness in Children and Its Effects on Parents


The prevalence of mental illnesses among children in the United States has been increasing over the decades (Song, Mailick, & Greenberg, 2014). A fifth of the adolescents in the United States are affected by these conditions. Notably, the most common illnesses reported include anxiety and substance use disorders. While there have been many studies undertaken about childhood mental illnesses, very few studies have focused on the effect of the illnesses on the parents. Parents whose children have mental illnesses are likely to experience challenges relating to shame and feelings of guilt. Moreover, research has reported that these parents have a high probability of being depressed. Another challenge concerning these illnesses is that mental health facilities do not focus on providing psychological support to the parents.

The current research sought to investigate the impact of childhood mental illnesses on the lives of the parents. The data was collected from students and parents at Kean University. This was a cross-sectional study and questionnaires were used to obtain the information required. After the data analysis, the results showed that parents experienced feelings of guilt, shame, and discomfort when comparing their mentally ill children to normal children. Moreover, the parents experienced depression, which hindered the utilization of psychological support. The findings of the current research replicate those of past studies. However, the research was limited due to the sample size and lack of random sampling in subject selection. Nonetheless, the findings are important as they form a basis for future research and promote the understanding of the ecological systems theory. In summary, comprehensive experimental studies are required to provide more evidence on the topic.

Restatement of hypotheses

The main hypothesis tested in the study was that the occurrence of childhood mental illnesses does not have any impact on the parents. The findings did not support the hypothesis as the analysis revealed that parents whose children had mental illnesses exhibited feelings of shame, guilt, and discomfort. Moreover, having a child with mental illness was associated with depression among the parents. These findings are replicated in another study conducted by Lautenbach, Hiraki, Campion, and Austin (2012), which reported negative implications on parents whose children had mental illnesses.

Implication and interpretation of results

The current findings are similar to a study undertaken by Lautenbach et al. (2012) which focused on the perspectives of mothers on their children’s mental conditions. Although the hypotheses tested in the two studies are different, the current results show that parents with children who have mental illnesses experience depression (p=0.01), guilt (P=0.03), and are uncertain (P=0.02) about the future and quality of life of their children.

The research by Lautenbach et al. (2012) also compared the mother’s perspectives toward children with mental illnesses with their attitudes toward other complex illnesses. Moreover, the findings from the study were critical in providing evidence on the importance of genetic counselling. Both research studies are an indication that the experiences of parents with regard to their children having mental illnesses are the same across different populations. Moreover, findings from the two studies indicate that parents who have mentally ill children are reluctant to seek professional care and are more predisposed to depression. These findings are crucial in supporting the ecological systems theory.

Explaining one of the results

One of the most significant findings of the current study was a positive correlation between parental depression (resulting from the inability to help the children enjoy life) and professional support (P=0.02). Parents who were depressed due to their children’s inability to enjoy life were more likely to feel that their children’s future was uncertain (P=0.02). These findings were expected as past research studies have also reported a positive association. The depression is likely to result from feelings of guilt and shame. Furthermore, parents are likely to be depressed because their children will never have a normal life. The variables were operationalized through the development of Likert scales that classified the responses of the participants. Additionally, the data was sufficient in answering the research question.

Strengths and limitations

One of the major limitations of the current study is the small sample size, as this is likely to affect the representativeness of the study population. Since the study focused only on parents and students from Kean University, there are limitations concerning the generalizability of the findings. The absence of random sampling is also a limitation in the study. The major merit of the study is the replication of previous findings.

Future directions

In respect to future studies, comprehensive experimental designs are required. These studies should focus on comparing the experiences of parents who have normal children with parents whose children have mental illnesses.


The current research mimics past studies and enhances the understanding of the ecological systems theory. The study supports the hypothesis that childhood mental illnesses have negative implications on the parents. Since the findings replicate past studies and support the theory of ecological systems, they will be important in forming a basis for future research. Hence, researchers will be able to understand the theory and develop other theories related to the topic.


Lautenbach, D. M., Hiraki, S., Campion, M. W., & Austin, J. C. (2012). Mothers’ perspectives on their child’s mental illness as compared to other complex disorders in their family: Insights to inform genetic counseling Practice. Journal of Genetic Counselling, 21(4), 564–572. Web.

Song, J., Mailick, M. R., & Greenberg, J. S. (2014). Work and health of parents of adult children with serious mental illness. Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, 63(1), 122–134. Web.