Physical health learning pathway

Emerging Minds, February 2023

Resource Summary

The Physical health learning pathway is for all practitioners working with adults, children, or families where a chronic physical illness is experienced. It will help you to understand the link between physical and mental health, and assist you to support children’s mental health where they or their parent/carer experiences a chronic physical health condition.

Physical health and mental health are interrelated, meaning that when one is challenged, the other is often impacted. Chronic physical illness can cause behavioural, emotional and physical changes, which can in turn reduce wellbeing for both the person who is ill and their family.1

For children living with chronic physical illnesses such as asthma, cancer, heart disease and epilepsy, pain and treatment can put a strain on their mental health. Some physical health conditions also carry with them a level of social stigma that can negatively impact children’s wellbeing. For example, children with higher weight (who may have been diagnosed as ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’) are at greater risk of experiencing bullying, low self-esteem and other mental health difficulties, in part due to the way society views larger bodies.2

When a parent has a chronic physical illness, it can impact the family’s functioning and the parent’s ability to provide everyday care to their children. While most children will cope relatively well with their parent’s illness, some may show signs of mental health difficulties, such as increased distress, behaviour changes or academic/relationship problems.

This pathway is designed to help you understand the impact of physical illness on children’s mental health. It can help you to identify the signs of mental health difficulties in both children of parents with a chronic physical health condition and those who are ill themselves, and build your confidence to respond in strengths-based, non-judgemental ways. It contains strategies for addressing the stigma and challenges that come along with some illnesses, and a conversation guide for talking with parents about the impact of their illness on their children’s lives.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that the resources in this learning pathway may contain imagery, audio or names of people who have passed away.

Explore our online physical health courses

Understanding child mental health and chronic physical conditions

This course provides an introduction to the impact of chronic physical conditions on the mental health of children aged 0–12 years. Information on the most prevalent chronic conditions in children is provided, along with interrelated factors that can affect children and families.  

Understanding child mental health and chronic physical conditions outlines the continuum of child mental health, and the factors that support it. It also describes approaches that can be used in medical settings to assist practitioners to engage children and their families in ways that support their mental health.

Parental chronic physical illness and child-aware practice

This course is based on the evidence and understanding that parental chronic physical illness can have a direct impact on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. This is together with the understanding that health professionals working with parents experiencing chronic physical illness are well placed to hold preventative conversations to help reduce the negative impacts for children.

Supporting the mental health of children with higher weight

This course and supporting resources will help practitioners develop an understanding of the links between higher weight and mental health in childhood and build collaborative relationships with children and families.

It includes four key practice strategies:

  • Addressing weight stigma and bullying
  • Supporting the child’s best and healthiest life
  • Using positive and non-judgmental language; and,
  • Developing a team around the child.

These strategies are designed to support practitioners to have sensitive, non-shaming and positive conversations with parents and children to help families overcome stigma and plan for their healthiest life.

View all Physical health learning pathway courses on Emerging Minds Learning.

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