PRIMERA Programme


“The mental health of families is an important public health issue with implications for individuals, the services they use, those who provide them, as well as policy makers and society in general” (Falkov, 2012; p.24).

Our new PRIMERA (Promoting Research and Innovation in Mental hEalth seRvices for fAmilies) programme of research – funded by the HSE from 2017-2021 – is investigating how best we can deliver mental health services and interventions to families where a parent has a diagnosed mental illness.

Collaborating partners in the study include the HSE, Tusla, Saint John of God Hospitaller Ministries, Children and Young People’s Services Committees, Advancing Recovery Ireland, and organisations from the community/voluntary sector.

PRIMERA launch, findings, and media coverage


Our PRIMERA (Promoting Research and Innovation in Mental hEalth seRvices for fAmilies) programme of research – funded by the HSE from 2017-2022 – investigated how best we can deliver mental health services and interventions to families where a parent has a diagnosed mental illness/mental health challenge. Please see below for the recording of our launch on 16th May 2022 plus additional information on our emerging findings, including short information videos.

Launched by the Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler on 16th May 2022, and with national and international attendees from the UK, Greece, and Australia, a short video summarising our research findings can be viewed here (insert link). A brief video clip describing the experience of two families who received the Family Talk intervention/programme, can be accessed here (link to video).

Our Briefing Report of the research findings can be downloaded here.

A recording of the webinar can be accessed here (link), with PowerPoint presentations from the day listed below. If you attended our launch, we would very much appreciate if you could take a few minutes to provide us with some feedback by completing this short survey (~1 minute) (

List of Presentations (in order of appearance)

Dr Mairead Furlong, Counselling Psychologist and Programme Manager of the PRIMERA research project and Research Leader at the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research. (Link to PP)

Rose Cuff, CEO Satellite Foundation, former state-wide Coordinator for the Families where a Parent has a Mental Illness (FaPMI) initiative, Victoria, Australia. (Link to PP)

Mary Donaghy, Former Mental Health & Learning Disability Lead & Think Family NI Ireland Lead, HSC Board, Belfast. (Link to PP)

Professor Joanne Nicholson PhD, Professor of the Practice, Institute for Behavioral Health, Brandeis University, USA and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. (Link to PP)


Media coverage

The early phase of the research has led to considerable media coverage from national radio, newspaper and social media platforms, thereby enhancing public and service awareness of the need to support these families. Click on the hyperlinks to see the coverage.

We are also delighted to report that our findings have featured in the Irish Times, the Independent and the Irish Examiner on 24th May 2022 and on Activelink on 17th May 2022. A special feature will also appear in the Irish Times on 31st May 2022 (link to follow).

Radio Interviews

Professor Sinead McGilloway
Kildare Today with Clem Ryan on 18th May

Connemara FM with Marian Herriot on 23rd May (beginning around 14.50)

Dr Mairead Furlong
Kilkenny Carlow FM Radio with Sue Nunn’s mental Health segment on 23rd May

An excellent and recently published Irish practice guidance document discussed at the launch, and produced for practitioners (“Family Focused Practice in Adult Mental Health Care”) by the Mental Health Social Work Department, Galway Roscommon Adult Mental Health Services, can be download here.


Please access our publications to date below:

Furlong, M., McGilloway, S., Mulligan, C., McGuinness, C. & Whelan, N. (2021). Family Talk versus usual services in improving child and family psychosocial functioning in families with parental mental illness (PRIMERA—Promoting Research and Innovation in Mental hEalth seRvices for fAmilies and children): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials, 22: 243. Access paper here.

Furlong, M., McGilloway, S., Mulligan, C., Killion, M.G., McGarr, S., Grant, A., Davidson, G. & Donaghy, M (2021). Covid-19 and families with parental mental illness: crisis and opportunity. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12: 567447. Access paper here here 

Furlong, M., Mulligan, C., McGarr, S., O’ Connor, S. & McGilloway, S. (2021). A family-focused intervention for parental mental illness: A practitioner perspective. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12.  DOI=10.3389/fpsyt.2021.783161.  Access paper here

Mulligan, C.,Furlong, M.,McGarr, S., O’ Connor, S. & McGilloway, S. (2021). The Family Talk programme in Ireland: A qualitative analysis of the experiences of families with parental mental illness. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. DOI=10.3389/fpsyt.2021.783189.  Access  paper here

Mulligan, C., Furlong, M. & McGilloway, S. (2020). Promoting and implementing family-focused interventions for families with parental mental illness: scoping and installation. Advances in Mental Health, 18 (3): 202-216. Access paper here.





Mental illness exacts a significant personal and social toll on individuals, families and communities whilst incurring huge economic costs – €11 billion per year in Ireland alone. Recent years have seen growing recognition of the importance of parental mental health and the need for more integrated and effective service responses to parents with mental illness and their children (e.g. Wilson et al., 2010; HSE, 2015).

Up to one in five young people live in families with a parent who has a mental illness (Reupert et al, 2012) whilst in the UK, approximately 1.7 million adults and 2.5 million children are affected by parental mental illness (Tunnard, 2004). However, the complex needs of these vulnerable families often go unrecognised and untreated, whilst the evidence for family-focused mental illness interventions is also very underdeveloped.

What are the aims of the research?

  1. To identify/develop, implement and evaluate family-focused interventions for families where a parent has mental health difficulties (and has children 0-18 years);
  2. To promote a ‘think family’ care delivery agenda in supporting such families in Ireland; and
  3. To develop national guidance on working with these families

Supporting families with parental mental illness: peer-reviewed paper just published 

The PRIMERA research team have recently published a peer-reviewed paper in a special edition of the Advances in Mental Health Journal. The  paper details the scoping phase of this (HSE-funded)  research which investigates family-focused practice for families impacted by parental mental illness in the RoI. Below is a short video abstract which summarises the content and importance of the paper.  A full copy of the paper can be accessed at

Family-focused service delivery and evaluation

Eighteen sites from across the Republic of Ireland have agreed to deliver a family-focused intervention as part of the PRIMERA research. Organisations involved in delivery include: HSE adult and child mental health services, primary care, Tusla Child and Family agency, Saint John of God Hospitaller Services, Recovery College South East and the community/voluntary sector. In many sites, the family-focused intervention is being delivered on an interagency basis.

Fifteen sites are involved in delivering Family Talk and three sites are delivering another model of family-focused practice (systemic family therapy, and multi-family group work). The Family Talk sites will be evaluated using a randomised controlled trial design, with embedded implementation and costs evaluations. The other three sites will be evaluated using a mix of questionnaires, surveys and interviews. Experiences of all participants will be consulted, including families (parents, children, and partners), service providers (clinicians, managers) and higher-level management within collaborating organisations.

Outcomes assessed in the evaluation include:

  • Parent and child understanding of parental mental health difficulties
  • Family functioning
  • Child resilience and coping
  • Child mental health and wellbeing
  • Parental mental health symptoms
  • Parental resilience and coping
  • Partner wellbeing

Sites involved in the RCT:

HSE Sites;

  • Carlow AMHS
  • Galway Roscommon AMHS
  • Galway Roscommon CAMHS
  • Midlands CAMHS
  • Clare AMHS
  • Louth AMHS
  • Mayo Mental Health Services
  • Dublin South West AMHS
  • Dublin South West CAMHS
  • Primary Care Psychology Longford Westmeath

Tusla Sites;

  • Galway Roscommon Tusla
  • Mayo Tusla
  • Louth Meath Tusla
  • Dublin South West Tusla

Saint John of God’s Hospitaller Ministries;

  • Cluain Mhuire Blackrock AMHS

What is Family Talk?

Family Talk is an evidence-based, manualised, 6-8 session programme for families where a parent has mental health difficulties. Family Talk involves trained clinicians seeing parents, children and the whole family. Family Talk has been identified as an intervention with promising evidence for improving: child and parent understanding of mental illness/mental health, family functioning, child mental health, coping and resilience, and parental mental health, coping and resilience (Siegenthaler et al. 2012). Family Talk has been adopted within several national initiatives – Australia, Finland, Norway, and Greece – that have been established in recent years to support children and families when a parent has mental health difficulties (Beardslee et al. 2013). Advantages of Family Talk include:

  • Evidence-based programme
  • See parent, children and the whole family
  • Addresses key child, parent, partner and family outcomes
  • Can be used for a wide range of mental health difficulties (e.g. depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, psychosis, substance misuse)
  • Free online training for clinicians on Emerging Minds website (takes 10 hours) – see Family Talk online training here and see the Training and Resource Hub sections below.
  • Free online manual and supplementary resources
  • Scope for flexibility in adding other relevant elements, e.g. family care crisis plan. See Resources Hub below
  • Guidance and support from programme developer, across sites, and international experts in field

What is Systemic Family Therapy and multi-family group work?

Systemic Family Therapy involves working therapeutically with individuals together with their families and/or significant others and enables the use of individuals’ relationships as a resource, and reduces stress and difficulties for all family members. Systemic family therapy has been found to be effective for children’s and adults’ difficulties, both when individuals have acquired a mental health diagnosis and when there is more general or complex distress. It is effective across the lifecycle, spanning developmental stages from young children to old age (Carr, 2014).

Multi-family group work involves a two-day workshop with 4-5 families (parents and children) at the workshop. Therefore there will be 15-20 participants at the workshop. The workshop will be preceded by preparatory meetings with each family and follow-up meetings will also be conducted. The intervention has been co-produced with service users and will also be co-facilitated by trained service users. The intervention draws from a range of family work models, including the Maudsley model, McFarlane’s multi-family work model, systemic family therapy, narrative therapy, dialogical approaches, recovery principles and transformative group work.

There is a strong evidence base for both methods in mental health family work (NICE, 2014), although this evidence is not specific to families where a parent has mental health difficulties. Therefore, we are interested to investigate their effectiveness in an Irish service context.

Current Project Team

Prof. Sinéad McGilloway
Professor Sinead McGilloway is Principal Investigator of the PRIMERA programme (and also Director of the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research).
Dr Mairead Furlong
Centre Leader and Research Programme Co-Ordinator (PRIMERA)
Dr Mairead Furlong is a postdoctoral researcher with the PRIMERA research programme (and formerly a member of the ENRICH research team).
Christine Mulligan
Doctoral scholar

Christine Mulligan completed her BA (Hons) degree in Psychology at Maynooth in 2017, achieving second in her class. She is now the PhD Scholar on the PRIMERA research project, undertaking a process evaluation of the introduction of a family-focused preventative intervention to address the impact of parental mental illness.

Sharon McGarr
Fieldwork Co-Ordinator

Sharon McGarr is a recent graduate of the MU Department of Psychology and a part-time Fieldwork Coordinator on the PRIMERA Research Programme.

Siobhan O'Connor
Siobhan O'Connor is completing her PhD on knowledge translation and is a fieldworker on the PRIMERA programme and a fieldworker and the communications/knowledge translation lead for the SALaM Ireland Study.
Dr. Nuala Whelan

Dr Nuala Whelan is a practising Chartered Psychologist, and an Associate Lecturer at Maynooth University. She provided consultancy in the conduct of the Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) that was undertaken as part of the PRIMERA research programme.

Dr. Colm McGuinness

Colm McGuinness (he/him), PhD, CIMA, CStat is a Lecturer in Mathematics and Statistics at TU Dublin, Blanchardstown campus. Colm acted as Statistical Consultant for the RCT that was conducted as part of the PRIMERA research programme.


Family Talk Surveys (for families)

Follow the links below to view surveys for Children and Partners.

If for some reason you are not able to access the survey, check that you have clicked on the right link. If you are still not able to do the survey, please email

Family Talk Online training 

Clinicians who are interested in offering Family Talk will find a free eLearning training programme at the following hyperlinks:

  • A prerequisite Keeping Families and Children in Mind course (We recommend that this course is done before doing training in Family Talk as it gives a more general grounding to the area of parental mental health difficulties and impact on children)
  • Family Talk intervention training course for clinicians interested in a family-focused approach to families impacted by parental mental illness. A certificate is provided once the course is completed
  • It takes approx. 10 hours in total to complete both courses (to be clear – it takes 10 hours combined, not 10 hours for each course)
  • Following doing the Family Talk training, we advise that clinicians look at the PRIMERA Resource Hub (at the bottom of the webpage). It contains excellent supplementary material on how to identify and work with families impacted by parental mental illness, including: (a) how to initiate conversations with parents, (b) recruit partners and children, (c) psycho-education tip-sheets on different mental illnesses; and (d) includes the manuals for the Family Talk intervention with many other relevant resources.

Resource Hub

The WITH Project