Preventing generational trauma

Two Monash researchers have been recognised for a lifetime trying to prevent generational trauma.

Almost one in four Australian children live with a parent with a mental health condition and these children are four times more likely to have their own mental health problems, compared to children whose parents are free of issues like depression and anxiety.

Two Monash researchers have awarded a national mental health award for their groundbreaking research aimed at assisting children who both need to deal with their own mental health issues while navigating a parent with depression, anxiety or other similar concerns.

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Intergenerational mental illness

Professor Darryl Maybery of the School of Rural Health and Professor Andrea Reupert from Monash University’s Krongold Clinic received the 2019 Tom Trauer Award for research and evaluation from the Mental Health Services Network. Through the work they have been recognised for, they have found that:

  • Young adults (aged 18 to 25 years) who have a parent with a mental illness and/or substance use problem are more likely, than other youth, to acquire their own mental health issue, drop out or fail academically, and develop stress-related somatic health conditions (e.g., asthma).
  • Between 21% and 23% of Australian youth have at least one parent with a mental health issue/condition..
  • Both genetics and family dysfunction contribute to the cycle-of-illness and/or substance use problems within families.

Hidden cohort needs intervention

According to Professor Maybery, this hidden cohort of young Australians with family-related mental health issues are particularly in need of intervention. “In their transition to adulthood, 18 to 25 year olds navigate multiple significant life transitions across education, employment and living arrangements. This developmental period may be particularly turbulent for those who grew up with a parent who has a mental illness and/or a substance use problem,” he said.

Mental health services typically focus on the mental health needs of the mental health consumer. “They do not support parents in their parenting role, nor intervene with children unless there are issues with abuse or neglect.  We need to stop the intergenerational cycle of mental illness by better understanding the problems for these families and by enhancing the capacity of the workforce to identify and respond appropriately,” said Professor Maybery.

International presentations

Professors Maybery and Reupert recently presented data at a Norwegian  conference on the development of the intervention for 18-25 year olds with a parent with a mental health problem. The mi. spot intervention provides facilitated structured weekly online sessions around psychoeducation, coping, relationships and boundary setting, self-care and resilience and draws on CBT, ACT and mindfulness principles within a strength-based framework. The sessions include opportunities for young people to chat one to one with a professional and provides opportunities for peer support.

The presentation included findings from a trial of with 30 online participants facilitated from the Monash Krongold clinic. The 18-25 year olds showed significant reductions in depression and trend improvements in wellbeing and coping. A randomised controlled trial is currently underway.

Professor Maybery and Professor Reupert have previously received international recognition of their work including winning the prestigious British Medical Association 2016 book prize for their book Parental Psychiatric Disorder: Distressed Parents And Their Families.