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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.

What can I do to help myself?

Parenting with a mental health problem can be difficult and there is no one solution.

However, there are lots of things that can make a positive difference. This section suggests several things you can try that might help.

  • Try to do some physical activity. Many people find exercise a challenge but activities like yoga, swimming or walking can be a big boost to your mood. If you don't feel confident doing exercise, you could start off with smaller activities - such as gentle chair-based exercises in your own home. See our pages on physical activity for more information.
  • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. See our pages on food and mood for more tips.
  • Try spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life. Some people find this boosts their physical and mental wellbeing. See our pages on nature and mental health for more tips.
  • Explore how different relaxation techniques can help you feel less stressed or worried. See our pages on relaxation for more tips.
  • Try to make regular time for yourself with no external demands ('me' time) – even 10 minutes a day can help.
  • Explore different treatment options so that you know what works for you. Remember that different things work for different people at different times.

"Perfect people or perfect parents don't exist – just focus on one day at a time and do the best you can."

  • Try to identify one or two people who you can ask for emotional and practical support.
  • Let people know as early as you can if you are finding it hard to cope and need support.
  • Ask for help with practical tasks such as childcare, transport and cooking meals.
  • Ask the school or nursery to keep an eye out for any behaviour changes in your children.
  • Find out if your employer offers flexible working arrangements, such as flexible hours, to help you manage the demands of working while parenting. See our pages on workplace mental health for more tips.
  • Plan ahead for the busy morning times each evening by making lunches and packing bags.
  • Try to stick to regular times for routine tasks like mealtimes and bedtimes.
  • Have a clear and quiet homework space for your children.
  • Make advance plans to reduce your responsibilities during unwell periods, and check out options for extra support during these times.
  • Write down family routines so anyone supporting you can keep things consistent.
  • Unfortunately, not everyone understands mental health problems. Some people may have misconceptions about what certain diagnoses mean. They may also use language you find dismissive, offensive or hurtful.
  • This can be very upsetting - especially if someone who feels this way is a family member, colleague or healthcare professional.
  • But it's important to remember that you aren't alone, and you don't have to put up with people treating you badly. See our information on dealing with stigma for some options for you to think about.
  • Local authorities have a duty to provide social care if your mental health makes it harder for you to do certain things, such as looking after your children. They also support children whose caring responsibilities are too much.
  • Ask someone you trust to either find out about or go with you to a support service for the first time.
  • Make a list of all the questions that you'd like to ask the support service.
  • Reaching out for help can sometimes bring up very difficult fears about having children taken away. Remember that organisations will have supported lots of other parents before you, and their family support staff will be experienced in how best to help you manage your situation.

"Let other people babysit, have your kid overnight, make their tea. Your kid won't mind and they'll love the extra attention. You aren't a bad parent for needing help."

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

References and bibliography available on request.

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