Family stress levels record a new high

Family Lives has recorded its highest proportion of calls relating to family stress, anxiety and depression, at a time when families are starting to feel the impact of budget cuts and increases in cost of living.

This worrying picture is one in which demand for family support services from vulnerable families, and in particular from those struggling with poor mental health or wellbeing, is increasing at the very time cutbacks are being made.   

The charity is calling for greater recognition and understanding of the type of support that embattled families need. It is highlighting the effective role of parenting support interventions in turning escalating problems around and improving the wellbeing of both child and parent. Poor mental health in parents and children, if untreated, can have a long lasting impact, and have a high cost in terms of both human and economic impact on individuals, families and society as a whole.    

Stressed out families

Over the last quarter period between October and December 2010, of the 9,684 long calls taken, 82% of callers (7944 calls) were seeking support from the charity's Parentline regarding their own and/or their children's mental or emotional health. During this period, calls involving adult mental or emotional health concerns comprised of 51.5% (4996 calls). Calls involving concerns about children’s emotional or mental health comprised 30% (2948 calls for Oct-Dec 2010).

In January 2011, the Family Lives helpline has received the highest ever demand on these two issues in the three years since the data has been collected in an equivalent way (32% for children and 53% for adults).

Family Lives’ two year analysis (January 2009 - January 2011) has also shown that during January 2011, the charity had the highest number of calls concerning adults’ stress (1742 calls, 50% of all long calls*). Stress levels in particular, have increased by 41% in the last six months (August 2010 – Jan 2011).  

Growing concerns around children’s emotional or mental health

Concern about children’s emotional and mental health is also on the rise. Our two year analysis (January 2009 - January 2011) has shown that during January 2011 Parentline has received the highest number of calls concerning children’s stress (691 calls, 20% of all long calls; 63% of all long calls about child mental health and wellbeing). Children’s stress levels in particular have increased by 79% (from 386 calls to 691 calls) in the last six months (August 2010- Jan. 2011).

Jeremy Todd, Chief Executive of Family Lives says: "Parentline call data has always demonstrated that family issues and concerns over mental health and wellbeing go hand in hand. However, we are concerned about the sharp increase in levels of stress, anxiety and depression that families are reporting through Parentline. While we welcome the government’s recent mental health strategy, and in particular, the announcement of the expansion in talking therapies based services to children and young people, the worrying picture that is emerging is one where demand for effective family support in relation to mental health and wellbeing  is growing when local support services are at risk of being scaled back. 

"It’s hard to say what factors are causing this sharp increase in family stress, but increasing pressure on family finances may be one contributory factor. Family Lives recently found that the state of the family finances is families’ biggest worry; with 53.5% of parents stating that their family finances are in a worse state than last year. If the right support isn’t in place for families during this time of economic uncertainty,  we will be storing up trouble for the future. The cost effectiveness of effective family support is well proven. Mental health problems costs the UK over 100 billion pounds every year, a significant proportion of which could be  prevented by spending a  comparatively small amount on effective preventative, early intervention based support.  Parents are encouraged to call our free Parentline on 0808 800 2222 for support.”

Parental mental-ill health and the negative impact on children 

Poor parental mental health is associated with a four to five times increased risk of conduct disorder for the child. 

Evidence based parenting interventions promote better parental mental health, better outcomes for the child, including school behaviour and attainment and reduce the risk of a lifetime course of poor health and outcomes, including criminality and anti-social behaviours. They reduce the take-up of risky behaviours including smoking, alcohol and substance misuse5. They also have the power to break negative intergenerational cycles by improving parenting style and skills for the current as well as next generation.