Exploring parent-child dyads and ethnic minorities in mental health studies

Nirma Bheeroo reviews the ACAMH podcast series on mental health.

I was born in North London and grew up in Mauritius, where I often volunteered for a Young Women and Children’s Shelter. That set me on a career path of exploring human behaviour and emotions. In 2020 when the pandemic hit, I started my mental health Instagram page raising awareness and posting content on different Psychology concepts. I started receiving messages from parents and adolescents regarding anxiety, but also with regards to the racism some of them faced due to identifying as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME). In continuing to post appropriate content on my page, I also came across a new podcast from the Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH) featuring postdoctoral researcher Yasmin Ahmadazadeh in conversation with freelance journalist Jo Carlow. 

Yasmin finds that there is no clear understanding as to what extent parents and children are similar in the mental health problems they experience, and the actual causes for any correlations. Her PhD research denotes three main areas in regard to anxiety and depression. Firstly, that the child would be genetically inheriting the mother’s mental health status, although there is no evidence suggesting that the mother’s anxiety causes the child emotional problems in the prenatal phase. There is also no significant evidence that parents’ anxiety causes long-term mental health changes in their child. Lastly, a child’s anxiety can predict future changes in their mother’s anxiety. 

Yasmin talks about ongoing studies which might be insightful in the future and provide room for more research to aid practice; CoTEDS, a twin study that has been running for the past 25 years, collects data on both twin parents and their offspring from birth. Additionally, she speaks about her own research considering the influence of children on parent’s mental health in the prenatal period. This investigates the extent to which the mother’s mental health is influenced by her child and whether pregnancy related traits influence the mother and child’s mental health during foetus development. The research expands from a collected sample in Norway to find out whether a foetus influences their mother’s anxiety and depression to potentially understand the real causes for the mother’s poor mental health symptoms during pregnancy. Interesting outcomes of this study can help better support mothers’ experiencing mental health problems. 

Alongside, Yasmin focuses on anti-racism in mental health research. In one of her blog articles, she despises measurement protocols while conducting research and raises concerns around the understanding of race, ethnicity and ancestry. She questions diversity, the actual population representation of samples and the ability of generalisation to the society. She also portrays the unfair description of stating ethnicity; some can be identified by their skin colour and others by their ancestry continent. Such categorisation excludes certain participants and allows for the misinterpretation of results, Yasmin argues. She provides the example of those identifying as BAME, who are victim of the complex system being marginalised and racialised and, thereby, often left out of research. 

The take home message from her podcast is an encouragement to researchers to try challenge what they believe might not be right and increase their involvement in impartial studies. She also mentions that child mental health can be influenced by genetics and children can also influence their parents’ mental health.

Overall, this podcast is insightful and provides a lot of direction for future equitable research. The podcast offers an understanding for those who are interested in parent-child dyad mental health studies and leaves a lingering thought around the understanding of race, ethnicity and ancestry. 

- Reviewed by Nirma Bheeroo (IG: @mentalhealth.nirma; E: [email protected]); Senior Assistant Psychologist at NELFT for AMEC, Redbridge MAP and Psychosis Pathway.  

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