Dr Ewelina Rydzewska, Research Associate at the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory talks about the newly funded Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) project MOTHERS ID-ABC led by Dr Deborah Kinnear.
We know that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any given year and it is therefore a hugely important issue. One area that requires urgent attention is the mental health of mothers who care for a son or daughter with learning disabilities. Whilst there is some evidence to suggest that providing unpaid care and support for a person with a learning disability can be mentally and physically challenging, studies are mostly limited to very small groups of carers and this is why our new project is particularly important.
Understanding more about mothers’ mental health will enable us to provide information that will support services to deliver the right support, in the right place and in the right environment to those when it is needed most.
MOTHERS ID-ABC will use Scotland’s Census 2011 to identify all mothers of people with learning disabilities in Scotland. Amongst many other things, the Census will tell us how old they are, how they rate their own health and whether they report to have a mental health condition.
We will link the Census with other datasets to find out what medications mothers of people with learning disabilities have been prescribed by their doctors, whether they have ever used mental health services and if their child with a learning disability has died since Scotland’s Census in 2011. Linking different datasets together will not only allow us to look at the group of all mothers of children with learning disabilities living in Scotland, but also to investigate if they experience any additional mental health problems at different stages of the care pathway. For example, during childhood/youth, carers have to navigate educational systems, mental health problems start to emerge in children and young people, and puberty impacts; at age 16 the transition from school into adult services can cause considerable stress for parent carers, who also have to learn to balance the tensions of protection versus supporting independence of their child. To allow us to explore the specific effects of caring for children with learning disabilities we will also compare outcomes with those of mothers who do not have a child with a learning disability and women without children.
Similarly, as part of a PhD project, one of the Observatory researchers, Kirsty Dunn will be looking at the mental health of fathers of people with learning disabilities, using various datasets linked with the Census information.
We believe that both these pieces of work are extremely important in that they will investigate a currently neglected area of research on a national scale; hence providing a unique and much needed insight into health of carers of people with learning disabilities. It is extremely important that all voices are heard in the conversation about how best to address the needs of people with mental health conditions, especially when they are used to putting the sometimes complex care and support needs of their children first. Our ultimate aim is to help raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing and to support the development of practical tools to support families. To achieve that for carers of people with learning disabilities, we need to take a step back and find out more about their mental health first.
This project is conducted in partnership with: