Psychiatric wards 'neglect' duty to parents

Susan said more could be done to help parents

Psychiatric hospitals must consider the children of those who are given compulsory mental health treatment, according to a health watchdog.

The Mental Welfare Commission says most healthcare staff are unaware of their responsibilities to help parents to maintain contact with their children.

It has recommended that hospitals provide child-friendly spaces.

And it urges providing information that can explain mental illness to children in a way they understand.

It also recommends that the family circumstances of patients is properly assessed.

George Kappler, chief social work officer at the MWC, said: "When the state intervenes to disrupt the normal parent-child relationship, there is a duty placed on the state to try to mitigate the impact of that as much as possible."

This duty was enshrined in a new Mental Health (Scotland) Act in 2003.

Not recorded

Mr Kappler said. "Section 278 is buried deep in an act which is 330 pages long.

"It's a pretty progressive piece of legislation, but we feel a lot of people still aren't aware of it."

When the MWC looked at a sample of paperwork, it found at least a quarter of patients had children under the age of 18, but this had not been recorded.

"Sometimes it comes down to leadership on a ward, or the training people had received," Mr Kappler added.

"There were some pockets of good practice perhaps because people were parents themselves.

"It was inconsistent across the country, although everyone recognised it was good practice."

Susan Clelland spent long periods in psychiatric hospital throughout her daughter's life, being treated for bipolar disorder. Like many wards, hers had no child-friendly area for visitors.

She said: "It would have been nice if there had been a room where we could have sat and talked.

"We had to sit in a general room where you had people who were very, very ill.

Bedtime stories

"They would upset her because they would come up and talk to her, clearly not very well at all."

Mrs Clelland found her own solution. "I recorded quite a few bedtime stories and she played that tape at night so she could hear my voice," she recalled.

"It meant she had that regularity of my voice reading to her, even though I wasn't there."

Mrs Clelland managed to maintain a good relationship with her daughter.

"I think people with a mental illness have to work harder to be good parents," she added.

"We try harder because we know there is so much against us.

"When I was well we had a lot of fun and I think that stood us in good stead for the bad times."

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