London: Parental mental illness is linked with increased risk of injuries among children up to 17 years of age and the peak of the risk happens in the first year of life, according to a new study.
The findings, published in the journal The BMJ, show that the risk of injury was slightly higher for children exposed to a mother’s (maternal) mental illness than to a father’s (paternal).
The risk was also higher for common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, compared to more serious mental conditions, such as schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.
Previous studies have shown links between parental mental illness and the risk of injuries in offspring. For the current results, the research team based in Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the UK set out to determine the relationship between parental mental illness and the risk of injuries among offspring.
Their findings are based on 1,542,000 children born in Sweden between 1996 and 2011 to 893,334 mothers and 873,935 fathers.
Health care records were used to identify maternal or paternal mental illness, including psychosis, alcohol/drug misuse, mood disorders, anxiety and stress-related disorders, eating disorders and personality disorders.
Records were also used to identify childhood injuries, including transport injuries, falls, burns, drowning and suffocation, poisoning and violence at ages 0-1, 2-5, 6-9, 10-12, and 13-17 years, comparing children with parental mental illness and children without.
After taking account of potentially influential factors, the researchers found that children of parents with mental illness had higher rates of injuries compared to children of parents without mental illness (in ages 0-1, these children had an additional 2,088 injuries per 100,000 person-years). This is calculated by following 100,000 people for 1 year.
Falls were the most common type of injury in all age groups, peaking at age 10-12 years, followed by burns and poisoning, which both peaked at age 0-1 years.
Overall, excess injury rates were somewhat higher for common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, compared to more serious conditions, such as schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.
Possible explanations for these findings are likely to be complex, but researchers suggested that some parents with mental illness may find it harder to be vigilant or supervise children sufficiently, during the first years of life.
“Efforts to increase access to parental support for mentally ill parents, as well as to recognise and treat perinatal mental morbidity in parents might prevent child injury,” they concluded.