Parenting and mental health
Many of us who care for children may worry about our mental health. We may worry about how it’ll impact our children or how we can look after them.
But with the right support and resources, it’s possible to care for children while managing your mental health problem.
This page covers:
All parents face challenges. Having children can be very stressful. But if you have a mental health problem, you may have more concerns or difficulties. For example:
- Coping with the everyday challenges of parenting. A mental health problem can make the day-to-day challenges of parenting feel harder. For example, anxiety may make you more easily worried. Or depression may mean that you have low energy. You may also experience side effects from medications, such as tiredness. You might also find it more difficult to maintain a routine.
- You may worry about how your mental health could affect your child. For example, whether they may experience stress or mental health problems themselves. Your child may also be impacted if they take on extra responsibilities around the home to help you. For example, they might have to change when they do their schoolwork. Or the amount of time they have to see their friends.
- Dealing with other people's negative ideas about mental health problems. For example, people may judge your parenting abilities because you have a mental health problem. Or your child may be bullied or teased.
- Finding it harder to seek help. You may feel worried about asking for help in case people see you as a less capable parent. You may put pressure on yourself to cope for longer than you're able to.
- Being unable to work because of your mental health problem. You may worry about how to provide for your children financially.
- You may worry about your child having to go into care. Especially if you're finding your usual parenting responsibilities difficult. Or if you have to go into hospital. See our section on when children might get taken into care to find out more.
You may feel like you need to be the best parent you can be. Or feel guilty that you can’t do certain things with your children. If you’re finding things difficult, it’s really important that you get the right help and support.
Perfect people or perfect parents don't exist – just focus on one day at a time and do the best you can.
Build a support network
- Try thinking of one or two people who you’d feel comfortable asking for emotional and practical support. This might be a friend or a family member. Or someone else that you and your children trust.
- If you’re finding it hard to cope and need support, let people know as early as you can. Try not to wait until you feel like you’re in crisis.
- You could try writing down how you might behave when you’re feeling unwell. It might be helpful to show this to people in your support network. They could help to spot the signs that you’re finding it hard to cope.
- Ask for help with practical tasks. For example, childcare, transport and cooking meals. It might help to write down your family routines so that anyone supporting you can keep things consistent.
- If you're employed, talk to your employer and see if they offer flexible working arrangements. For example, flexible hours. This might help you manage the demands of working while parenting. See our pages on work and mental health for more tips.
It was extremely hard for me to admit to my boys that I wasn't OK. But I saw it as vital for their own future mental health to know that this was alright and they could ask for help whenever they needed it.
Prepare for a crisis
- Some people can identify clear patterns in their mental health. Other people may find it less predictable. But noticing what increases your distress can help you prepare for a crisis. It may help to make a note of your triggers on paper or on your phone.
- You could make plans for getting extra practical support when you’re feeling very stressed. Reducing your sense of responsibility may help ease your distress.
- Talk to the people closest to you about how you would prefer to manage a crisis. This may even prevent a crisis from happening.
- There’s more formal ways to plan for times when it’s hard for you to make decisions. For more information, see our pages on advance statements and decisions.
- Visit our page on preparing for a crisis for more tips.
Parenting with a mental health problem is about using the skills and practices all parents can use. The arrangements I make for my children's care should I need to go into psychiatric hospital are no different to those I would make for a stay in general hospital.
Look after yourself
It can be easy to forget about looking after yourself when you have children. But taking time to help yourself is important. It can stop some problems from developing or getting worse.
Everyone has different ways of looking after themselves. That’s ok. But these are some ideas that might help:
- If you’re short on time, think about ways you can still engage in things that you enjoy while parenting. For example, if you enjoy reading, you could listen to an audiobook while you’re doing other things.
- Some parents find that trying to maintain routines can be helpful. For example, with sleeping and exercise. Try to start small. If you want to exercise more, schedule in a small walk each day and build this up over time.
- If you have access to childcare, try using some of the time to focus on things that make you feel good. For example, you could book an appointment to get your hair cut. Or try to spend some time in a green space.
How can I help my children?
You may worry about how your mental health problems could affect your children. It can be hard to know if your child is also struggling with their mental health.
Our page talking to a young person about their mental health gives some tips on how to start talking to your child about their mental health.
If your child has responsibilities around the home, they may be classified as a young carer. You may feel concerned that your child’s caring responsibilities are having a negative impact on them. But there's support out there.
- Your GP is there to help you with your mental health and your physical health. You can ask them about local services that could offer support and advice. It may be helpful to make a list of the questions you’d like to ask in advance. Our pages about seeking help for a mental health problem also have more information.
- Some voluntary mental health organisations and family charities may be able to help. Some offer online counselling, drop-in groups and specific support for parents. You can usually refer yourself. For example, Family Action provide support services for families with adults living with mental health problems. You can also contact your local Mind for more information about services in your area.
- If you're finding it hard to get the help you need, an advocate might be able to support you. They're an independent professional who'll listen to your needs and support your choices. They can help you contact relevant services or go to appointments with you. See our page on advocacy for more information.
- If you need extra support, your local authority may be able to provide social care. You’ll need a social care needs assessment to access this.
- The local authority also support children whose caring responsibilities are impacting their day-to-day lives. You can find more information about this from Carers Trust.
- You and your child may be entitled to support from children's social care services. This would be in addition to support from adult social care services. The local authority will need to assess your child’s needs to decide if they’re entitled to support.
- Citizens Advice has more information on help for your child from your local council in England, and help for your child from your local council in Wales.
- For more information about financial support you might be entitled to, visit our money and mental health page.
Reaching out for help may bring up very difficult fears about having your children taken away. Remember that organisations will have supported lots of other parents. Their family support staff will be experienced in how best to help you manage your situation.
It's the hardest thing to do but admitting you're struggling and asking for help and support is very important.
You may feel worried about seeking help for your mental health, in case it means your child[ren] might be taken into care. This may make you nervous about seeking help. This could increase stress for you and your family.
This section explains more about when children could be taken into care and what would happen:
- Children are only taken into care in extreme circumstances. This will only happen if other forms of support haven't worked. Or if social services feel you can't keep your child safe at home.
- Being in contact with social services doesn't mean your child will be taken into care. Social services aim to keep families together. They can provide targeted support to help you look after your children yourself. For many parents, this can be a positive experience.
- If your child is taken into care, it doesn't mean this will be permanent. Care is often temporary until you’re well enough to look after them yourself again. You should be allowed to contact your child if they’re not living with you while they’re in care.
- Your child can’t be taken into care straight away unless they’re at immediate risk of significant harm at home. If there’s evidence that your child fears significant harm, social services may act quickly. They may do this by seeking a protection order from the court.
- In most cases you’d receive advanced notice that the care process is beginning. This would mean being served with the court application. It’s important to seek legal advice as soon as you receive notice from social services. This is because cases involving child protection orders can be listed for urgent hearings.
- The court’s primary aim during care proceedings will be safeguarding your child’s welfare. The court won’t make an order unless it considers that your child will be better protected away from home.
For more information on what would happen if a child was going to be taken into care, see Citizens Advice.
If your child is taken into care this may be a very distressing experience. There are ways to find support to help you through the process:
- Find a solicitor who specialises in childcare law to help you with the legal process. You can ask your social worker how to do this or check the GOV.UK website. You’ll be able to get free advice and representation from a solicitor. Factors like your income, your savings or whether you own your home won’t affect this.
- Contact a support charity for families involved with social services, such as the Family Rights Group. They can offer information and advice about this process.
- Learn about your own legal rights. Information on local authority care and kinship care are available on the GOV.UK, Citizens Advice, Family Rights Group and Kinship websites. Coram Children’s Legal Centre also provide specialist family law advice.
- Make sure that you understand any treatment plan given to you. If you don’t understand or disagree with any part of it, it’s important to talk to someone. You can talk to your social worker, GP or a mental health worker.
Sometimes I worry about how my mental health problems affect my ability to parent my children – and then I look at them and see how tolerant, kind, caring and understanding they are towards others. It's then that I remember I've still done a good job!
Provides information for parents and carers to help you support a child and look after yourself.
Supports children and young people, and their parents and carers, including with mental health problems.
Information and support for people caring for someone else.
0800 144 8848 (England Adviceline)
0800 702 2020 (Wales Adviceline)
18001 0800 144 8884 (textphone)
Free, confidential information and advice on your rights, including money, housing, experiences of discrimination and other problems.
Family Rights Group
Support for families with young children, including details of local services.
Online network aimed at parents and parents-to-be, including online forums and details of local groups.
116 123 (freephone)
Freepost SAMARITANS LETTERS
Samaritans are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. You can visit some Samaritans branches in person. Samaritans also have a Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).