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PLoS One. 2013 Sep 10;8(9):e73739. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073739. eCollection 2013.

Defining quality of life in the children of parents with severe mental illness: a preliminary stakeholder-led model.

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  • 1Institute of Brain, Behaviour & Mental Health, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.


Severe parental mental illness poses a challenge to quality of life (QoL) in a substantial number of children and adolescents, and improving the lives of these children is of urgent political and public health concern. This study used a bottom-up qualitative approach to develop a new stakeholder-led model of quality of life relevant to this population. Qualitative data were collected from 19 individuals participating in focus groups or individual interviews. Participants comprised 8 clinical academics, health and social care professionals or voluntary agency representatives; 5 parents and 6 young people (aged 13-18 yrs) with lived experience of severe parental mental illness. Data underwent inductive thematic analysis for the purposes of informing a population-specific quality of life model. Fifty nine individual themes were identified and grouped into 11 key 'meta-themes'. Mapping each meta-theme against existing child-centred quality of life concepts revealed a multi-dimensional model that endorsed, to a greater or lesser degree, the core domains of generic quality of life models. Three new population-specific priorities were also observed: i) the alleviation of parental mental health symptoms, ii) improved problem-based coping skills and iii) increased mental health literacy. The identification of these priorities raises questions regarding the validity of generic quality of life measures to monitor the effectiveness of services for families and children affected by severe mental illness. New, age-appropriate instruments that better reflect the life priorities and unique challenges faced by the children of parents with severe mental illness may need to be developed. Challenges then remain in augmenting and adapting service design and delivery mechanisms better to meet these needs. Future child and adult mental health services need to work seamlessly alongside statutory education and social care services and a growing number of relevant third sector providers to address fully the quality of life priorities of these vulnerable families.

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