This section is for friends and family who want to support someone who is parenting with a mental health problem. Support from friends and family is very helpful when looking after children. This is particularly true if someone is unwell.
Practical help is invaluable when someone is unwell. There can be any number of things that you could do to support someone that would make a huge difference to their stress and anxiety levels:
- Helping with day-to-day tasks like transport, childcare, housework or shopping.
- Organising parenting responsibilities over a period of time by working out daily and weekly routines and identifying the most important tasks.
- Taking the children to activities and making sure they still get to see their friends.
- Looking after pets.
- Acting as an emergency contact person who can have the children to stay at short notice, or help with basic tasks, if your friend or family member becomes unwell.
- Asking your friend or family member how you can best help – they will know what's most helpful for them.
If your friend or relative is more seriously ill, you may have to decide whether to do things for them (possibly including looking after the children for a bit) or to keep encouraging them to try to carry on for themselves. There are no easy answers to this situation.
It will help if you can find someone who you can discuss these and other issues with, and who may be able to share the responsibility with you.
If your family member is finding it hard to look after their family, they may worry that they will be judged or criticised if they ask for help, so it’s important to be supportive and reassure them that it’s OK. Encourage them to be open about their mental health problem, so they feel comfortable coming to you if they need support.
- Let them know that you respect them for talking to you about how they are feeling.
- Be empathic and understanding in your response, rather than trying to fix them.
- Explore with them any ways that would help them to recognise when they are becoming unwell, and what their triggers are.
- If you sense that they are not coping, ask them how they are – they may not know how to ask for help.
- Understand that they may feel very sensitive to being judged. Be as supportive and kind as you can in the way you speak with them.
I didn't realise becoming a parent was going to be hard but having depression and looking after a baby made me feel blank. All I can say is thank God for family and positivity.
Help them to find other sources of support
It is important that you don't offer more support than you can genuinely give. If you feel that your friend or family member needs additional support, you could support them to find the extra help that they need:
- Research what support is available for them, or do it together.
- Act as an advocate to help them get the support they need.
- Put together a list of contact numbers and opening times for local support services.
- Signpost them to useful websites and information services.
- If you have previously agreed that you can contact schools, other friends or family members on their behalf, do so to enlist more help.
If you’re concerned for a child’s safety
Sometimes complex problems like mental distress can make it hard for parents to meet a child's needs. This situation can develop into a more serious one of abuse or neglect. If you notice any warning signs, it is important that you take them seriously – even though it can feel very hard to do so.
- If you have a strong enough relationship with the parent, see if you can find a way to voice your concerns without judging their parenting.
- Ask them if you can help them to find the support that is needed.
- If you are unsure about what to do in this situation, you might find it helpful to contact the NSPCC to find out your options and discuss your concerns in confidence.
- If you are genuinely worried about a child’s safety, you may want to talk to your local authority’s Children's Services department.
- It is likely that you will be worried about whether you are doing the right thing, and you may feel as if you are betraying your friend or family member. It is important that you also find support for yourself during this time.
Looking after yourself
Supporting a friend or relative experiencing a mental health problem can be difficult, and lead to stress and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Looking after your own mental health is as important as supporting anyone else's.
- Be clear about your boundaries of what you can and can't do, and how much time you have available.
- Make sure you continue to spend time doing things that you enjoy and that help you to relax.
- Notice if you are being affected by supporting others. Put things in place to support you with any increased stress or anxiety – see our information about stress.
- Recognise that you are in the role of a carer and be aware of the impact this can have on you over time. See our information on coping as a carer.
Those who love me for who I am as me – rather than my diagnosis – and who are not afraid to stand up to stigma, are those I love and want around me.
This information was published in August 2016. We will revise it in 2019.