Plea for children of mentally ill
Hospital visits can be traumatic for children
More needs to be done to support the children of parents with mental illness, says the charity Barnardo's.
In a report, it says children do not get enough information on their parent's condition, and says mental hospital visits can be traumatic.
The charity says children go "unnoticed", and it wants specialist services to help families cope.
A mental health charity said counselling should be available to all family members.
Children rely on their parents for emotional and practical support but when parents are affected by mental illness, their role can become a struggle
Studies suggest that a fifth of all women referred for mental health treatment have a child under the age of five, and Barnardo's interviewed children of all ages, and their parents, to find out more about their experiences.
These included the 11 and 12-year-old son and daughter of a woman with severe depression, who were placed in separate foster homes every time she had to be treated as an inpatient, and the eldest of five children, who, at 16, said that he felt that he had to look after the entire family after his mother suffered from mental illness.
Barnardo's chief executive Martin Narey said: "Our experience is that, at times, children go unnoticed when a parent needs mental health treatment. "Promoting collaborative work between adults' mental health services and children's services is critical.
"Every needs to remember the patient's crucial importance as a parent."
The report recommends that every family which has a parent with mental illness has a named professional who can provide information and act on their behalf.
Barnardo's also wants mental health trusts to make their inpatient visiting facilities more "child-friendly", and for schools to be given the means to support children.
The charity's lead researcher on mental health, Alison Webster, said: "Children rely on their parents for emotional and practical support but when parents are affected by mental illness, their role can become a struggle.
"Our proposals would mean that the whole family would get more of the support they need."
Government policy appears to be moving towards this approach. A review of the 1999 English National Service Framework on Mental Health, which helps set NHS policy and practice, found "little to report" on the support offered to family carers.
However, the Code of Practice linked to the 2006 Mental Health Bill does include advice on dealing with the families of those affected by mental health problems.
Government documents, such as the "Children's Plan", published in England in 2007, and similar documents in Scotland and Northern Ireland, now acknowledge the need to deliver health services with the effects on the entire family in mind.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said that the present situation was "scandalous".
He said: "The family is the place where children learn to be happy and healthy so it's scandalous that at the moment the system is completely failing families where a parent has a serious mental illness.
"Children who are not given help to cope with their parent's mental illness are vulnerable to long-term emotional and behavioural problems."A range of services including talking therapies and practical social support need to be made available to everyone in the family - we must stop leaving families to struggle on their own to cope with mental illness."