mother and daughter talkingThe majority of parents fear that if their child is diagnosed with a mental illness it will amount to a life sentence for them, according to new research.

A study by research charity, MQ: Transforming Mental Health found that 67% of parents who took part said they would worry that their son or daughter might never recover from a mental illness, while 74% were concerned they might get worse over time.

The survey of more than 2,000 adults, carried out for MQ by YouGov, also highlighted the depth of parents’ concerns surrounding mental health, with many worried about the impact it could have on education, employment and relationships. About half of parents (49%) said they would be worried their child might never meet a partner or have a family of their own if they were to be diagnosed with a mental illness, while 48% were concerned they might never get a job and 44% admitted to fearing that their child might be taken away from home to live elsewhere.

MQ is calling on the government to address parents’ concerns by prioritising research into young people’s mental health – of which there is a shortage currently. The charity believes that finding more effective ways to intervene early could significantly reduce the life-long negative impacts of mental illness - 75% of those affected by mental illness began developing their condition before the age of 18.

Top of the list of issues to address is the major lack of funding for mental health research: despite affecting 1 in 4 people each year, only 5.8% of UK research spend goes towards mental health.

The survey indicated strong public backing for greater investment in research into the causes of mental illness and the search for new, effective therapies and treatments. More than 4 in 5 adults agree that “more should be done to tackle mental illness for the future”, rising to 97% among those with lived experience on mental illness. In addition, 68% of adults surveyed believe that the current proportion of funding for mental health research is too low and, on average, respondents think 20% of the total UK medical research budget should be spent on mental illness.

Cynthia Joyce, chief executive of MQ, said: “Living with a mental illness can be a tough burden for anyone. But when it affects a child it can be terrifying and have long-lasting impacts into adulthood.  

“Our research sheds more light on the concerns of parents, all too often unspoken. And it reveals just how far we still have to go when it comes to tackling mental health conditions. 

“But through a greater focus on research we can find the answers we need, deliver better treatments and give parents and children hope of a brighter future.” 

Dame Til Wykes, vice-dean of psychology and systems science and professor of clinical psychology and rehabilitation at Kings College, London, added: “Mental illness is one of the biggest challenges faced by young people today. We need a better understanding of mental health, and the money we are currently spending on research to help us do that is nowhere near that of other health conditions.

“Momentum for change is building. But talk is not enough. We cannot hope to make progress in the long run without investment in research.”