Parental Mental Health

What is mental illness?

Mental illness is an illness of the mind. For someone who has a mental health problem, they lose some of the control over their thoughts and feelings. There are many different types of mental illness and they can affect people in a variety of different ways. They can be mild or severe depending on the illness, person, age, environment. Mental ill health often makes everyday things difficult to do.

Mental health affects 1 in 4 people at some point in their lives so it is likely that at some point either you or someone you know will suffer from mental ill health. For some children, they grow up with a parent or parents who have mental health difficulties. The severity of the mental illness can change over time.

For more information and films discussing what it's like to have a parent with a mental illness click here.

The Impact of Parental Mental Health on Children

Children are very resilient and can cope with a lot of things in life that upset the balance of things - it cannot be helped that there will be ups and downs with the illness.  Some of the difficulties that children may face when living with parents who have a mental health problem are:

- Feel a sense of blame - illness is their fault
- Risk of developing a mental illness - understanding the illness, having other support and having a good relationship with their parents helps to prevent this
- Separation every time a parent becomes unwell and can't look after children
- Do not get the support, love and care that every child needs
- Have to take on a carer role from a young age
- Teased or bullied by other peers
- Have to listen to discrimination by other of their parents and their condition
- Difficulties at school

These difficulties may not be the experience of every child and there may be other things which are not on this list. It is an indication of some of the difficulties that children may come across when living with a parent who has a mental health problem.

Making things easier...

There are some things that can be done in order to make the child’s life easier. Being mentally ill does not automatically mean they cannot stay at home. Have another reliable, consistent adult that they can talk to, give them information and let them understand the illness and try to encourage the child to live like their peers do. It is also important to make sure the parent stays as well as possible and recognises when they are not – having a plan in place for when they are not well. It is up to you who you want to help in these situations. It can be a GP, social worker, friends, other family or other support organisations.

Help your child understand

Click on the images below to download these leaflets and share the information with your child to help them understand more about what it means to have a mental illness.