Parents ‘face barriers’ in seeking help for their child’s mental health problems

These are the findings of a study carried out by researchers from the University of Nottingham and King’s College London. Their research is published in the December issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Mental health problems are common in children and adolescents – affecting around a quarter of children in primary care. However, children are dependent on adults to recognise their problems, and very few parents of children with mental health problems raise their concerns during GP consultations.

The research team, led by Dr Kapil Sayal, held focus groups with 34 parents who had concerns about their child’s mental health. The parents identified a number of barriers that stopped them seeking help from their GP, including: embarrassment, stigma of mental health problems, concerns about receiving a diagnosis or being judged a poor parent, and concerns their child may be removed from the family.

Appointment systems caused problems for some parents – they had difficulty getting an appointment, and felt appointments were too short for the GP to observe their children’s behaviour or for them to raise their concerns fully. Other parents saw GP’s surgeries as being ‘medical places’ and so did not feel it was necessary to raise their children’s emotional and behavioural problems with their GP.

The researchers found that parents were more likely to seek help if they had built a good relationship with their GP and saw the same doctor regularly. They were also more likely to raise concerns if their GP showed interest in their family life and gave them time to talk about emotional issues.

Dr Sayal said: “Not recognising children’s mental health difficulties can mean their problems persist into adulthood. Our study shows that parents value GPs showing interest in their family situations, and listening to and taking their concerns seriously.

“This means that most GPs should be able to help parents who have concerns about their child’s mental health. This could be achieved through GPs taking a family-oriented approach to consultations as well as putting more emphasis on children’s mental health in postgraduate GP training. Allowing parents to pre-book longer appointments may also be helpful.”

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Sayal K, Tischler V, Coope C, Robotham S, Ashworth M, Day C, Tylee A and Simonoff E (2010) Parental help-seeking in primary care for child and adolescent mental health concerns: qualitative study