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Family breakdown key factor of mental illnesses, new report claims

Date:8 FEB 2011

Mental IllnessThe increase in cases of mental illness in Britain can in part be attributed to the high levels of family breakdown, according to a new report.

Mental Health: poverty, ethnicity and family breakdown is an interim report written by a working group of experts for the Centre for Social Justice, which was founded by Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith in 2004.

The report puts the cost to the nation of mental illness at £105 billion. The think-tank  claims that mental illness is frequently a consequence of family breakdown, with 60 per cent of the people they surveyed taking this view. By contrast, only one third thought poverty was a major cause of poor mental health.

Family breakdown in all its forms is strongly associated with poor mental health in adults and children, the report says, yet went unacknowledged in the Government's mental health strategy launched last week.  The reports's author the role family breakdown plays in causing these problems is frequently overlooked by experts.

"Family breakdown and conflict were considered to have the biggest adverse impact on children's well-being," the report says.

"Conflict between parents has been associated with an array of adjustment problems in children, for instance poor peer interaction, conduct problems, ill health, and depression and anxiety.

"Children with separated, single or step-parents are 50 per cent more likely to fail at school, have low self-esteem, experience poor peer relationships and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression."

The report calls for a renewed effort to break the stigma and fear surrounding mental illness, the development of a family-focused approach breaking down divisions between services treating different age groups of patients, a bigger role for family doctors, placing a greater emphasis on recovery from mental illness and a reinvigoration of care in the community.

Detailed recommendations for reform of the existing treatment services will be published later this year.