Parenting, even in the best of health, can be a challenging task. It is no surprise then that parents who experience poor health face additional challenges in meeting their children’s needs.

Many parents who experience mental ill health cope well and provide positive parenting which supports and nurtures dependent children, and many children of parents with a mental illness will experience positive childhoods and transition to adulthood. Whilst this is a guiding principle, practitioners should be aware that, for a range of complex reasons, children who live with the impact of parental mental illness are more likely than their peers to develop mental health issues themselves. However the right support can reduce the development of mental health issues in these children by 40%.

Whether working in adult or children’s services, schools or mental health teams or social care, there is something that you can do to improve the well-being of parents who experience mental illness, their children and the whole family.

‘It was very helpful for the family as a whole to take on board that it is OK to talk about mum’s mental health issues and how these are understood by a young person’
Adult mental health care coordinator

What can you do?

Children and young people can often cope well with all sorts of life’s upsets if they have a better understanding of what is happening and why.

Messages for children to hear:
‘It’s not your fault that your parent is ill.  You didn’t cause the illness’
‘It is ok to talk about mental illness’

So what works?

Assessments which identify and consider:

  • the inter-related needs of the family
  • individual and family strengths
  • the intrinsic and extrinsic protective, stress and risk factors impacting on the family
  • how parenting tasks are affected by their mental health issues
  • the impact on the parent-child relationship

When children do better so will parents and when parents do better so will children.

Support plans which:

  • Increase every family member’s understanding of the mental health issues.
    These resources can help to inform young people:
    Minds Myths and Me
    More information about parental mental illness for young people  (The Royal College of Psychiatrists)
    Mental Illness in Your Family (Young Minds)
  • Promote family cohesion and reduce the anxieties of the child by supporting and encouraging conversation between parents and children about mental illness.
    Try these resources:
    Advice on telling children about a parent’s dementia (Young Dementia UK)
  • Help families to develop a story about their circumstances which the children can use with their peers
  • Encourage families to inform their children’s schools. Most schools in Gloucestershire now have a Young Carer Lead who will understand the issues and can arrange appropriate support for the child within school.
  • Enable children and young people to connect with others in similar circumstances
    Refer to Gloucestershire Young Carers.
  • Introduce the children to fictional stories about families impacted by mental ill health.

Learn More

COPMI Emerging Minds: Promoting better outcomes for children and families where a parent experiences mental illness: an Australian website with a wealth of information for children and families impacted by parental mental illness and for health and social care professionals

‘I do wish to put it in writing how much I valued your professional yet totally personal approach to us.  Both myself and my child were in need of help whilst dad was away in hospital and you came and gave us a way through with your kindness and genuine warmth, coupled with your experience and valuable knowledge.’