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A guide for parents Parental mental illness

If you are a parent with mental illness, you may be struggling to support your child, or you may worry about the impact of your illness on them. Read our guide for information and advice.

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How can parental mental illness affect young people?

If you or your child's co-parent has a mental health problem, it can be really tough for both you and your child. However, children and young people can cope in this situation when their parent is given good help, and when they get support themselves from family, other adults and professionals when needed.

At times, however, their parent's feelings and behaviour may be worrying, upsetting or even frightening.

Challenges for young people living with a parent who has a mental illness can include:

  • not understanding what is happening
  • worrying that the mental health problem is their fault
  • having to help a parent with medication or personal care
  • trying to predict what mood their parent is going to be in
  • being shouted at if their parent is very angry or upset
  • being scared their parent will self-harm or take their own life
  • seeing their parent self-harming, taking drugs or drinking
  • worrying about money problems if their parent is not able to work
  • missing school if they feel they need to look after their parent
  • being separated from their parent if they spend time in hospital or are not able to look after them
  • not being looked after or cared for themselves
  • having to look after or care for siblings

How can I help my child?

  • Talk to your child

    Encourage your child to talk about how they feel, what their worries are and how the mental illness in the family is affecting them. You can find our tips on starting a conversation with your child here.

  • Ask what they find difficult

    Ask your child if there is anything about the situation they find particularly difficult, upsetting or scary - and think together about whether there are any changes that could be made to make things easier.

  • Find someone for them to talk to if needed

    If you are not able to be part of a discussion with your child, try to find another trusted adult who can help them open up. This could be another family member, a family friend, their teacher, or a counsellor or GP. 

  • Explain what the parent is experiencing

    Give your child clear information about what their parent is experiencing. This can help them to understand what is going on and help them to know that it is not their fault.

  • Maintain your child's routine

    Help your child to keep some routines and parts of their life going as normal. This could be things like going to school, seeing friends, having space away from the family and getting time to do activities they enjoy.

  • Find out what support is available

    If you or your child's co-parent is being supported by health professionals or social workers, talk to them about what support is available for your family. Remember that if social services get involved, it does not mean they will take your child away from you. Their role is to assess the situation and offer help and support. Your child would only be taken away from the home if there was no other way to keep them safe.

Where can I find support?

Children of a parent with mental illness can often take on a carer role in the family. This can include doing jobs around the house, cooking meals, looking after their parent's needs and giving them emotional support, making sure their parent takes their medication and looking after younger siblings.

Young people in this situation need help to make sense of what's happening and support to look after themselves. If this is the case for your child, there are lots of local organisations that can support them. You should be able to find young carers services near you by searching online.

Contact your child’s school teacher or college tutor to let them know what's going on and to see what support they can offer.

Alongside counselling, schools can often provide support from the pastoral team, a member of staff who your child can chat to when they need to, mentoring, peer buddying and clubs and activities.

Depending on their age, it may be important to make sure your child feels some control over the information that’s shared about them – for example by discussing with them who they would feel comfortable for you to speak to.

Counsellors and therapists can provide emotional support and help your child to make sense of, and find ways to cope with, what's going on in their life. Therapists working with younger children will usually work through play and arts activities such as painting, drawing and making things.

Read our guide to find out how you can access counselling or therapy for your child.

Counselling and therapy

If you're worried that your child is struggling with their mental health themselves as a result of the situation, speaking to your GP is usually the first step to accessing support. Your GP can provide information and advice, signpost you to local services and discuss treatment and support options with you. Depending on your child's situation, they may refer them to a specialist for an assessment or to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). 

You can speak to your GP with or without your child.

You can find out more about speaking to GPs, finding a counsellor or therapist, accessing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), getting help from your child’s school and finding local services on our guide to getting help for your child.

Getting help for your child

Useful websites and services

  • Mind Infoline

    Provides information and signposting on mental health problems, where to get help near you, treatment options and advocacy.

    Opening times:
    9am - 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays)
  • Mind Legal Line

    Provides information and advice on mental health law, including being detained, mental capacity, community care and discrimination and equality.

    Opening times:
    9am - 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays)
  • Rethink Mental Illness

    Provides practical advice and information to adults living in England who are affected by mental illness.

    You can also find support groups near you using their group finder.  

    Opening times:
    9.30am - 4pm, Monday to Friday
  • Bipolar UK

    Provides information and a peer support service for people affected by bipolar, including friends and family. You can find a local support group here.

  • Scottish Association for Mental Health

    Provides local support services to people affected by mental illness in Scotland.

    Opening times:
    9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday
  • PANDAS

    Emotional support for any parent experiencing pre or post natal depression, or another mental health issue such as anxiety, during or after a pregnancy or birth.

    As well as using their helpline, you may be able to find a local support group here. 

    Opening times:
    Every day, 11am - 10pm
  • Our Time

    Provides information, advice and support for children with a parent who has a mental illness - including family workshops in some areas of the UK.

  • Carers UK

    Provides information, advice and support for carers. You can find services in your local area here.

  • Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS)

    Offers support for people over the age of 18 who have lost someone to suicide.

    Opening times:
    9am - 9pm, Monday - Friday
  • Nacoa

    Provides information, advice and support for anyone affected by a parent’s drinking.