New research links increased use of health services by children to parents’ mental health

30 July 2018

Today (Monday 30 July 2018) Health Foundation research, published in BMJ Paediatrics Open, shows that children are more likely to use health care services if their parents have mental health problems such as depression.

The researchers, working in collaboration with a large London GP practice, analysed data from over 25,000 patients. The most striking observation was that children with a parent who has depression are 41% more likely to attend A&E, 47% more likely to be admitted as an inpatient and 67% more likely to have an outpatient appointment. The research also found parental depression is associated with increased GP consultations among adolescents.

Furthermore, the research found that there was higher demand for emergency and general practice care for children of parents who themselves are higher users of these services.

This is the first time robust research, using novel data linkage techniques, has been undertaken in England to understand the impact on children’s use of health care of the health of their parents and siblings who are living in the same household.

The research did not explore the reason for the link between parents’ mental health and their children’s use of health services. There are several possible explanations for the findings. For example, it could be that parental depression might be a consequence of prolonged illness in a child.

Adam Steventon, Director of Data Analytics at the Health Foundation said: ‘Going to A&E or spending time in hospital isn’t a pleasant experience for children or their parents at any time. Our research shows that by linking data in new ways we can gain better insight into the link between parental mental health and their children’s use of health care services. This may help clinicians identify and offer greater support to those families most in need, helping avoid A&E attendance and the use of other health services where appropriate, and reducing pressure on the NHS.

‘It is critical that long term funding of the NHS prioritises mental health services and supports better integration of care so that patients have the right services in place to best support them. More holistic assessment of families’ health needs, potentially through whole-family health care appointments and including consideration of mental health and the support they receive from people around them, may be an effective approach to improving children and young people’s health and wellbeing.’

Read lead author Kathryn Dreyer's blog on this research

Media contact

Peter Stilwell
Senior External Affairs Manager
peter.stilwell@health.org.uk
020 7664 4647

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