Parenting with a mental health problem

Explains difficulties you may face as a parent with a mental health problem, support available and suggestions on how to help yourself and your children.

Your stories

Coping with parents' evening

Naomi blogs about living with a mental health problem while coping with some of the challenges of parenthood.

Posted on 14/04/2015

Postnatal depression and the myth of the ‘perfect’ mum

Sara blogs about her postnatal depression experience and the pressure to be the 'perfect' Mum.

Sara Powys
Posted on 04/08/2016

What will help me prevent or manage a crisis?

Please note: if you're feeling in crisis right now, scroll to the top of this page and click the yellow 'I need urgent help' button. It will take you step-by-step through your options for support. Alternatively, see our page on how to seek help in a crisis.

Even if you do your best to manage your mental health, there may be times when you become very unwell and are unable to care for your children. It can be a difficult time to make clear decisions, so it might be helpful to think through what would need to happen in advance.

Become aware of any patterns in your mental health

Tracking your mental health and identifying what increases your distress can help you plan to put extra support in place during pressured times. Some people may be able to identify clear patterns in their mental health whereas for others it may feel a lot less predictable.

Ask yourself:

  • Does your mental distress increase in any specific circumstances?
  • Are there are certain times of the day, month or year that typically increase your distress?
  • What are the main things that are hard to manage during times of increased distress?
  • What helps you when you are finding things difficult?
  • Who can you turn to for extra support?

Reduce your responsibilities during times of illness

If you have periods when you are unwell or find it more difficult to cope, you may find it helpful to think in advance about what practical steps you could take to reduce some of your responsibilities during these times.

  • Organise extra childcare for your children, such as an after-school club, nursery or childminder.
  • Get older children to use public transport or a taxi to get to school or after-school activities.
  • Employ a cleaner on a temporary basis.
  • Ask your employer if you can work fewer hours or work from home some of the time.
  • Ask friends to cook occasional meals for you and your family.
  • Find other adults who can help your children with their studies.
  • Ask for more general help from friends, family and any other sources of support you have.

Think about your support in a crisis

Talking to the people closest to you about how you would prefer to manage a crisis can be a good way to plan for the future. This could even prevent a crisis from happening. If it would be helpful to have a record, you could take notes of what you agree.

  • Identify how they can spot the signs of a crisis.
  • Explore how you would like them to help you.
  • Identify who should be contacted.
  • Talk through what treatment you would like.

There are also more formal ways that you can plan for times when it may be hard to make decisions. For more information, see our section on Advance statements and decisions.

What if I become too unwell to care for my children?

Planning in advance for times when you become too unwell to care for your children can reduce stress and worry about what will happen, and minimise any disruption to your children’s lives. Plan the following with someone you trust while you are well:

  • decide who will do what for your children
  • have a clear plan about how that will happen (for example, if your children will go and stay with them or if they will come to your house)
  • discuss weekly routines and useful contacts
  • if you are a single parent, it is particularly important to decide who will take over your role as the legal responsible parent if you are unwell

What if I need to be admitted to hospital?

If there is a chance that you may be admitted to hospital during a crisis, you might also find it useful to plan the following:

  • check and write down visiting hours of local hospitals
  • find out whether there are facilities for family visits
  • decide whether you want your children to visit you in hospital or not, and arrange with someone to bring your children to visit if you do
  • explain to your children in advance that you might have to go to hospital and what will happen while you are there, to help them feel more prepared

It's like a juggling act – people keep saying I must take time to deal with my mental health but when the children need things it can be almost impossible.

Checklist and planning resources

Use this checklist to remind yourself of things you have tried and what helps:

  • I take positive steps to look after my mental health
  • I can ask for help if I need it
  • I am organised about daily parenting tasks and have a good routine
  • I have a good support network
  • I know who to ask to help me with day-to-day responsibilities if I need to
  • I have spoken to my friends and family about what to do if I have a crisis or need to go into hospital
  • I know what professional support is available for me if I’m not coping
  • I have spoken to my child about my mental health and they understand my condition
  • I keep a close eye on my child’s wellbeing and they have someone to talk to if they are worried
  • I know what support is available for my child if they finding it difficult to cope
  • I keep track of my child’s caring responsibilities and make sure they aren’t getting too much

This information was published in August 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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