Positively preventing mental health challenges – in adults and children

Mental health challenges can occur in people of all ages and backgrounds. An estimated one in four people experience mental health issues each year, according to data from Mental Health First Aid England 1, 2.

Apart from dementia, the vast majority of mental illnesses (75%) appear before age 18 3, 4. Therefore, to support positive psychological health and limit or prevent mental ill-health, it makes sense to take a preventative approach focussing on early childhood.

Giving parents the skills and knowledge to provide a positive, low-conflict environment for children is one of the key outcomes of the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program®; the program is proven to support the mental health and wellbeing of both parents and children. Triple P interventions also reduce couple conflict and child maltreatment rates. Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and increasing the protective potential of Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) are both essential to long-term improvements in national mental health.

Investment in early intervention and family support is not just important to improve individual outcomes – for every pound invested in supporting children via the Triple P system, there are economic benefits valued at £5.05, according to the British Medical Association.

We spoke to the team who deliver Triple P at Gloucestershire County Council, who shared some of the ways in which Triple P helps support families facing challenges with mental health.

Parents gave positive feedback about adapting their behaviour and reported significant positive impacts on their children’s wellbeing. They also describe the value of:

  • Being encouraged to take care of themselves
  • Sharing experiences with others
  • Having realistic expectations of what they and their children can achieve
  • The praise and encouragement received on the programme
  • Learning to develop positive coping statements to deal with tricky moments and keep them calmer, relaxed and less stressed with their children and co-parents.

For example, one couple were experiencing significant mental distress after the birth of their second child. The infant’s five-year-old sibling had developed significant behaviour problems and both parents were concerned that their older child may harm the baby. As a result, both parents were experiencing clinically significant mental health concerns and relationship distress.

To tackle these challenges, the family worked with a Triple P practitioner and chose the areas they wanted to work on. Over a couple of months, many areas of the family’s life improved. The five-year-old was able to voice their worries (that the new baby would somehow harm their mother) and have them addressed, while also being reassured their relationship with their parents wasn’t threatened. Both parents’ capacity to cope significantly improved across all clinical measures and their mental health returned to a normal range.

Perhaps most importantly, the impact of this intervention was noticed at the child’s school. Before the family did Triple P, the child’s teacher had been very concerned but afterward, a very different child emerged and the teacher noticed a positive difference in their behaviour and interactions with others.

In addition to the parents’ mental health, it’s worth considering the implications for the five-year-old’s life trajectory, had positive changes not been made. It’s clear that this type of preventative approach is a relatively simple and cost-efficient way to prevent future problems for so many families in similar situations.

Reflecting on the programme’s impact on the family, the mother wrote:

“My child is far more responsive, calm and reasonable in terms of their general conduct at home, and bedtimes have, on the whole, massively improved too. We believe that the transformation in our child’s behaviour is as a direct result of the skills, strategies, support and encouragement we have received from Kelly and cannot thank her enough. Her professionalism and experience were evident from the outset, and we would recommend Triple P to all other parents, without hesitation.”

1. https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/research-and-evaluation/mental-health-statistics/#impact

2. Mental Health Taskforce NE. The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. 2016. Available from: england.nhs.uk

3. Davies SC. Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013, Public Mental Health Priorities: Investing in the Evidence [Internet]. 2014. Available from: gov.uk

4. Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry [Internet]. 2005 Jun 1 [cited 2018 Oct 16];62(6):593. Available from: archpsyc.jamanetwork.com