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).

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 (eg. Wilson et al., 2010; HSE, 2015).

It is estimated that up to one in five young people live in families with a parent who has a mental illness (Reupert et al, 2012). However, the complex needs of these vulnerable children and families often go unrecognised and untreated, whilst the evidence for family-focused practice in mental health services is very underdeveloped.


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 support families where a parent has a diagnosed mental illness/mental health challenge.

Collaborating partners in the research included 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. Our participating sites are listed below.

What were the aims of the research?

To identify/develop, implement and evaluate a family-focused intervention for families where a parent has mental health difficulties (and has a child/children aged 0-18 years)

To promote a ‘think family’ care delivery agenda within mental health services in Ireland

PRIMERA launch webinar (and findings)

The PRIMERA launch webinar took place on 16th May 2022. Please click here for the recording.

Commending the depth of the work at the launch, the Irish 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”. 

A Briefing Report of the PRIMERA findings can be downloaded here. Three video excerpts that summarise, respectively, the overall background to, and findings emerging from, the research can also be accessed here. An additional brief video clip describing the experience of two families who received the Family Talk intervention/programme, is here.

NB. 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). Thank you.

List of Presentations (in order of appearance)

‘Family Focused Practice in Adult Mental Health Care’ – A Guidance Document

The above excellent and recently published Irish guidance document, discussed at our launch, and produced for practitioners by the Mental Health Social Work Department, Galway Roscommon Adult Mental Health Services, can be downloaded here.

Media coverage

A special feature written by Sheila Wayman appeared in the Irish Times on 31st May 2022. We are also delighted to report that our latest findings featured recently in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner on 24th May 2022 and on Activelink on 17th May 2022.

Radio Interviews, May 2022

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

Early phase media coverage

The early phase of the research led to considerable media coverage from national radio, newspaper and social media platforms (see below), thereby increasing public and service awareness of the need to support these families.

Professor Sinead McGilloway
Drive time with Mary Wilson on 6th September 2018 

The PRIMERA research was mentioned on RTE’s Morning Ireland ‘It Says in the Papers’ segment
and featured (prominently) in the Irish Examiner (p.3):

The PRIMERA research team hosted a unique Masterclass on 5 September 2018 which was delivered by Dr Adrian Falkov, a world-leading expert on family mental health, to provide frontline professionals with the extra support they might require to tackle the often complex needs of Irish families who struggle with mental health challenges as part and parcel of their everyday life. For more information, click on the press release below:

Christine Mulligan (PhD Scholar on PRIMERA) reflects on her experiences of growing up in a family where there were mental health difficulties. The other PRIMERA team members, Professor Sinéad McGilloway and Dr. Mairead Furlong, also discuss the research within this article:

Christine Mulligan and Professor Sinéad McGilloway also featured in The Bridge 2018, the annual Maynooth University alumni magazine. This edition was circulated as a pull-out in the Irish Times in December 2018.  The magazine article (pg. 14) can be accessed here:


Our publications, to date, may be accessed below; more are in preparation.

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

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 

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

A short video abstract summarising the content and importance of the paper, is also provided below.

Participating mental health service sites

A total of 10 sites from across Ireland agreed to deliver a family-focused intervention called Family Talk, as part of the PRIMERA research. In many sites, this was (and is being) delivered on an interagency basis. Participating sites are listed below.

HSE AMHS, CAMHS & Tusla Sites:

    • Carlow AMHS
    • Clare AMHS
    • Cork AMHS
    • Dublin South West AMHS, CAMHS
    • Galway Roscommon AMHS, CAMHS, Primary Care, Tusla
    • Kildare Tusla
    • Louth AMHS
    • Mayo Mental Health Services
    • Midlands CAMHS & PRIMARY Care Psychology Longford Westmeath

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. The programme 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). It 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

Resource Hub


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.