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Parents with a mental illness

parent; mental; illness;

Mental illness is a common problem. About one in five people will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point during their lives, and for some people this may be while they are a parent of a child.

For these parents, caring for their children may present many challenges. This topic looks at the effects of having a parent with a mental illness on children.


Common reactions in children

When a child has a parent with a mental illness, it can be difficult for them to talk about what is happening, how they are going and how they feel. Children may think people will not believe them, fear being teased, be worried about what their parent might do, and generally feel very alone.

They may feel responsible for their parent’s mental illness and feel angry because their parent is different. They can feel guilty and disloyal when they have these feelings.

When parents have a mental illness, they may have times when they are not able to provide all the care their children need. This can affect the emotional and physical health of the children.

How to help

If someone in your family or whom you know is in this situation your support is very important.

Children can be supported by other family members, friends, teachers, church groups, sporting coaches or anyone else who is trustworthy and whom the child knows. Children may also need help from community support services such as child and adolescent services.

You can help by:

  • Let children know that it is OK to ask for help.
  • Listen to how they feel, and point them in the direction of community services they can access, or adults that they can ring for help when they feel unsafe, afraid or alone.
  • Help them learn ways to keep themselves safe eg home safety, crisis emergency numbers.

Children may also need help from community support services such as child and adolescent services.

More to read 

Raising Children Network http://raisingchildren.net.au/ - the Raising Children website is produced with the help of an extensive network including the Australian Government.

Children of parents with a mental illness (COPMI) http://www.copmi.net.au/ 



South Australia


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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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