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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.

How can I help my children?

Many parents who have a mental health problem worry about how this might affect their children. This section suggests a few things that you can try to help reduce any impact that your mental health problem may have on your children.

"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."

Honest communication

Talking to your child honestly about your mental health can reduce any fear or confusion they may be feeling, and help them understand your actions and behaviour. The following list suggests things to consider that will help make the conversations a little easier.

  • Speak with a trusted friend first and decide what you want to say to your child, or talk it through with a support service like the Carers Trust.
  • Stick with clear and age-appropriate information.
  • Explain as simply as possible how your mental health affects how you feel and how you behave.
  • Make regular time to talk to older children about how they are feeling.
  • Be available to listen if they are having problems or if they just want to talk.
  • Answer questions as honestly as possible, or find someone else who can answer them instead.
  • Reassure them that they are not responsible for how you feel – instead, be a team with your children and help each other at different times.
  • Agree what information about your mental health you feel happy for them to share, and with whom.
  • If your child doesn't feel comfortable discussing their feelings with you, identify a trusted teacher, friend or family member that they can talk to if they feel worried. Childline can also offer them confidential information and advice.

Keep track of their mental wellbeing

It is a good idea to keep track of your child's wellbeing, to make sure that they are OK and that their own mental health is not being adversely affected. If you keep an eye on how they are, you will be able to notice if they are having difficulties and deal with any issues quickly.

  • Devise a simple way to check in with your child about their stress levels, eg: 'On a scale of 1–10 how relaxed are you feeling? What is one thing that will bring that score closer to 10?'
  • Keep an eye out for changes in their behaviour, such as becoming quiet and withdrawn.
  • Notice if your child doesn't want to participate in activities that they usually enjoy.
  • Pay attention when children become angry or aggressive; try to acknowledge their feelings and set boundaries without becoming angry back.
  • Attend parents' evenings at school, nursery or any after-school clubs as much as possible, to find out how your child is coping; or make arrangements for a trusted relative or friend to go on your behalf.
  • Ask people you trust to also keep an eye on your child's wellbeing; close friends and family members can let you know if your child appears different, and they may notice things you don't.
  • If you feel concerned about your child's mental health, you can ask your GP to assess them, or make contact with a local support organisation for young people such as Young Minds.

"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."

Make sure their caring responsibilities are manageable

If your child has responsibilities around the home, this might mean they are classified as a young carer. These could include looking after the household, shopping or money, or helping you with your basic needs such as washing, dressing or taking medication. Try to keep track of how much they are doing and make sure this isn't having a negative impact on them.

  • Be aware of the relationship between responsibility and stress, and makes changes that reduce the pressure on your child if their stress levels rise.
  • Ensure that they balance any caring responsibilities with activities of their choice.
  • Build in rest time each week where your children can 'do nothing'; this will help them avoid becoming overly tired or resentful of having too many 'grown up' things to do.
  • If it feels difficult for you to help balance your child's caring responsibilities, ask for some advice from a support organisation such as the Carers Trust, or seek social care support from your local authority.

Think about what they need in their own lives

Helping your child to have the different things they need in order to be happy and healthy is a satisfying part of being a parent.

  • Talk to them about their experience of school, find out what they are enjoying and which aspects they are finding harder, so that you can support them with these.
  • Create a quiet and clear place at home where they can study and prioritise time each week for them to do homework.
  • Support their friendships to develop and strengthen; if you don't feel able to have their friends around, see if you can help them to set up times where they can meet outside the home.
  • Help them take part in activities they enjoy.
  • Respect their privacy by letting them have their own space.
  • Encourage physical exercise, to let off steam and reduce anxiety or worry.

If you are concerned that your child's caring responsibilities are having a negative impact on them, there are lots of organisations that may be able to offer advice and support. See our page on support available, including social care, for more information.

"Most importantly love yourself. You are your child's role model. They know if you don't look after yourself and they will do the same."

This information was published in April 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

References and bibliography available on request.

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