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1 week ago

Family Mediation Jersey

Family breakdown is both a cause and effect of poor mental health

In this and our earlier work we use the term family breakdown in an inclusive way, associating it with dissolution (divorce or separation), dysfunction or ‘dad-lessness’. Family breakdown in all its forms is strongly associated with poor mental health in adults and children. People with mental health problems can struggle to nurture and support other family members and relationships can break down as a result. However the role family breakdown plays in the aetiology (causes) of mental disorder is frequently unacknowledged. For example, the Government’s mental health strategy launched recently makes no mention of the effect on children’s mental health of conflict between parents and living in fractured families. Working with the whole family not only prevents many children from being labelled as mentally ill but can also tackle the causes of their problems – often rooted in or sustained by the dynamics of family relationships.

Recent research and our new poll highlight the association between mental illness and coming from fractured, dysfunctional and fatherless families. The recent Good Childhood Inquiry report concluded that mental health problems are ‘on the increase’ and cited poor parenting (either a lack of affection or the failure to show authority and set boundaries) as a significant contributing factor. Depression and anxiety have increased for boys and girls aged 15 to 16 since the mid-1980s, as have what are called 'non-aggressive conduct problems’ such as lying, stealing and disobedience

Family breakdown and conflict were considered by the Inquiry to have the biggest adverse impact on children’s well-being. Conflict between parents has been associated with an array of adjustment problems in children, for instance; poor peer interaction, conduct problems, ill health, depression and anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, substance misuse and poor attachment. The Inquiry found that children with separated, single or step-parents are 50 per cent more likely to fail at school, have low esteem, struggle with peer relationships and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression. The report concluded that “Child-rearing is one of the most challenging tasks in life and ideally it requires two people”. The National Child Development Study (which has tracked around 17,000 people born in Britain during one week in 1958 over the course of their lives) has recently shown that greater social acceptance of divorce has not reduced its impact on children. When outcomes for this group were compared with children born in 1970, children from both cohorts whose parents split up are equally likely to end up without qualifications, claiming benefits and suffering depression (and more likely than those from intact families).

The Centre for Social Justice
Mental Health Poverty, Ethnicity and Family Breakdown
Interim Policy Briefing
February 2011
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