Yesterday marked the official launch of the findings of the PRIMERA (Promoting Research and Innovation in Mental hEalth SeRvices for fAmilies) research programme. This research was funded by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to identify/develop, implement and evaluate family-focused practice for families with parental mental illness in Ireland.Ireland is rated to have the third highest incidence of adult mental illness across 36 countries in Europe — costing the Irish state €11 billion per year. It is estimated that 280,000 children are dependent on parents who have a mental health illnesses.

Launching the findings of the five-year PRIMERA research programme, the research team said the findings of the comprehensive programme illustrated barriers that need to be addressed within mental health services and has recommended the development of a ‘whole of family’ approach within mental health services, including automatic consideration of children when a parent has a mental health illness.

Professor Sinéad McGilloway, CMHCR Director and PRIMERA Principal Investigator,recommended that the ‘think family’ policy and practice be developed and incorporated as part of routine Adult and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Ireland. According to Prof. McGilloway;  “We know that parental mental health can typically affect the entire family. An estimated 23% of all families have at least one parent who has or had a mental health disorder. We also know that the lifetime risk of mental illness for their children vastly increases by 41%-77%. She further added ; “When child welfare is not considered in the treatment of parents with illness, our services are failing to identify a portion of children and adolescents who are at significant risk of becoming the next generation of mental health service users.

The  PRIMERA research team, in collaboration with clinicians and HSE management, worked to identify, implement and evaluate a family mental health intervention called Family Talk across a wide range of adult, child, and primary care mental health sites. Family Talk is the first family-focused mental health programme of its kind to be delivered in Ireland and involves a comprehensive whole-family approach designed to improve family communication/ relationships and resilience when there is parental mental illness. PRIMERA Research Programme Manager, Dr Máiréad Furlong, said despite the challenges (including COVID-19 restrictions), the findings showed that Family Talk was significantly beneficial for two thirds of families in the research, across different mental health settings and diagnoses.

Commending the depth of the work carried out and commenting on the findings, the Minister with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, said: “I welcome the launch ​of PRIMERA’s research and its contribution to our understanding of the needs of families of people accessing mental health services. Outcomes for people with mental health difficulties tend to be better where family and carers are involved and where these families and carers themselves are supported.

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