As a new year approaches, we spoke to five parents about the mental health challenges and opportunities that face their children’s generation - and their hopes for what research could achieve.
1. Screening people to understand who’s vulnerable to mental illness
Bronwyn: “I hope that we have a much better ability to screen people early on – to make really strong predictions about who’s vulnerable to mental health problems and who isn’t. As we know with all illnesses, the earlier you can identify a problem, the better the chance that person will be able to live a quality life. I hope that’s something we can improve upon in the very near future.
I think traditionally men don’t come forward and report symptoms of ill health. I hope that, by the time my son Henry grows up, he will be at a point where he sees absolutely no problem acknowledging that he needs help. We’ve seen a change with the stigma associated with mental health even in my short lifetime – and I can’t imagine how much that’s going to progress throughout Henry’s.”
Bronwyn is an MQ-funded researcher, looking at the connection between hormones and anxiety - and if hormones might affect the way women respond to anxiety treatments. She’s the mother of Henry, 2, and Olive, who is 3 months old.
2. Treating mental health conditions at the earliest possible stage
Melanie: “Children today are so vulnerable. There is immense pressure on them to do well at school and fit in socially. The rise of social media can mean even more pressure to look good and 'keep up' with others in all aspects of life. I think the biggest challenge that my daughter's generation faces is finding a balance between healthy and unhealthy use of social media and technology in general.
I hope that we can find ways to treat mental illness at its earliest possible stage. Research and awareness of mental illness is vital so that people in need, like my daughter was, can be helped before they reach crisis point.”
Melanie is a writer, designer and mental health advocate. Her daughter was 12 when she first tried to take her own life - and now, aged 17, she’s recovered.
3. Creating more personalised treatments
André: “I hope the next 20 years see much better targeted and personalised treatments coming from the genetic research that is now beginning to show promise. Digital technology will play a big part in interventions too, alongside existing medication and psychosocial approaches.
We need to actually deliver on parity of esteem, reduce inequalities and focus on the people who really need help in our country. I’d like to see less fluffy research on symptoms and more targeted work that helps people who urgently need it; those living in poverty, in the criminal justice system, without a home, with addiction problems, with severe and enduring mental illness. That research is not sexy, but it is absolutely essential.”
André is a mental health researcher, founder of the Mental Elf website and father of Ava, Luca & Edie Rae. He experienced depression shortly after becoming a father.
4. Giving people the tools to understand who is at risk of attempting suicide
Trevor: “Right now, many people who work with young children and vulnerable adults don't have the tools or knowledge to understand who is most at risk of dying by suicide. It’s incredibly important for services to share information on patients and share ideas. I hope research can learn from life experiences of people whose lives have been touched by suicide - this can only be a positive step towards prevention becoming reality. Early intervention is vital for someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts.
If young people get the help they need early enough, it can save lives so parents like myself don't have to suffer the traumatic pain of losing a child to suicide. It’s hugely important that we keep fighting for a safer mental health community. With the work of MQ, we are making the right moves forward.”
Trevor’s daughter Chloe took her own life in 2014, aged 19. Now he campaigns about mental health, so others don't go through what she did.
5. Identifying how genes affect the likelihood of someone experiencing mental illness
Mark: “I hope we can find out whether mental illness is genetic - how much does DNA impact mental health problems? Will my son be more likely to experience mental health problems because my wife and I have?
If I had been screened early enough - and aware that fathers could even develop postnatal depression - I think I would have managed it so much better. We need people to talk more and we need to see money ploughed into mental health research in the same way that it’s been put into cancer. There’s so much we know about cancer – because we’ve done the research – but we just don’t have the same level of knowledge about mental health. In the next ten years, I think we’re going to see a massive shift. I’m hopeful for the future.”
Mark and his wife both experienced postnatal depression after the birth of their son Ethan. Mark later founded Reaching Out PMH, through which he runs workshops and speaks at conferences about his own experience.
75% of those living with a mental illness develop symptoms before the age of 18. That’s why we’re committed to tackling mental health conditions where they begin – in young people. Through research, we can improve our understanding of mental health, pave the way for new interventions and make these hopes a reality for the next generation.
Last updated: 27 December 2018