Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 43, Issue 11, pp 927-935

First online:

Counting children at risk

Exploring a method to estimate the number of children exposed to parental mental illness using adult health survey data
  • Diego Garcia BassaniAffiliated withCentre for Global Health Research, St. Michael’s Hospital, University of Toronto Email author 
  • , Cintia Vontobel PadoinAffiliated withThe Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, Gail Appel Institute, Dept. of Psychiatry, University of Toronto
  • , Scott VeldhuizenAffiliated withCentre for Addiction and Mental Health, Health Systems Research and Consulting Unit

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Children exposed to parental psychiatric disorders have an increased risk of several psychiatric disorders, impaired development, behavioural problems, injuries, physical illness and mortality. Even though this high-risk group has been shown to benefit from health promotion and preventive interventions, estimates of the size of the population at risk are not available. Estimating the number of exposed children using adult survey data will likely generate valuable information for health policy, planning, and advocacy. In this paper, the authors present a method to indirectly estimate the size of this population using secondary data. A Canadian adult health survey and the Census were combined to estimate the prevalence of exposure of children less than 12 years to parental and non-parental psychiatric disorders. A method to combine census and survey data is presented and tested under varying degrees of data availability. Results are compared to the actual number of children exposed to parental psychiatric disorders and discussed. The most accurate estimates were obtained when the most complete survey was combined with relatively detailed census information. Incomplete survey simulations produced substantial underestimates of the prevalence of exposure even when combined with detailed census information.


child psychiatry risk factors survey epidemiology parental psychiatric disorders