Helping you get through tough times

Having parents with mental health issues

Having a parent with a mental health problem can be difficult at times. You may have a parent who has been diagnosed with a mental problem and manages it pretty well.

cogsOn the other hand, you may have a parent who has been diagnosed with a mental health problem, but struggles to handle day-to-day activities.

This could make life at home feel chaotic and crazy.

What might you feel if your parent(s) have a mental health problem?


It’s not unusual to feel you’re alone and stand out as not being normal. You might even wish you just had a “normal family” and feel you have to hide your family from your friends. This can be pretty stressful.

When you have something troubling you that you want to talk about, you may not feel able to talk to your parent about it. This make you feel like you have no-one to turn to.


You might feel that you’re to blame for the way your parent is. This can be hard; especially if your parent’s is having a hard time controlling their emotions or responses.

If they get angry really easily, you may feel you’re the reason they’re angry. Remember, it is not your fault. Mental health problems are nobody’s fault.


When your parent is starting to show signs of their mental health problem, it may make you feel scared. You might worry if they’ll be okay, or that you’ll do something to upset them.

Also, if you have a parent who has severe mood swings, it can be hard to be around them when they’re angry, depressed, upset, or even suicidal. It can be hard to know how to handle these situations and they can be quite frightening.


You may feel sad about the situation, and may be upset to see what your parent and other family members are going through.


You could be wondering, “Why did this have to happen to me, to my family? Their mental health problem is keeping me from having a normal life.”

This can be especially hard if you have to help take care of the home or other family members because your parent isn’t able to. You may resent the fact that you don’t get to go spend time with your friends, or are prevented from things because of taking care of your brothers or sisters while your parent is getting treatment or not well.


You might feel embarrassed by your parent. You may have heard other people call those with mental health problems stupid”, “Crazy”, or “psycho”;  and you may be afraid people will think that about your parent or family.


Worrying about how your parents are doing on top of already worrying about school, work, or  friends can be pretty overwhelming. You might find yourself so worried and distracted by what’s going on with your parents it could lead to problems concentrating at school or work.

Tips for dealing with parents who have a mental health problem

Inform yourself

If one or both of your parents has been diagnosed with a mental health problem, it’s important to learn what you can about the problem itself. This can help you realise how their behaviour is not your fault.

You might even discover it isn’t as scary as you thought it was. Some mental health issues like panic attacks can feel much scarier in the moment when you don’t know what it is. By learning about the problem, you may even learn about ways to help your parents and yourself.

It can also be helpful to learn what the treatments for their disorder are. What kind of therapy does it involve? Are there drugs that can help relieve their symptoms? Knowing that treatments exist and work can help relieve some of your stress.

Talk to your parents

Ask them questions about what it’s like for them, what their take on their own on it is. It may help your parents to know that you‘re interested in what’s going on with them. This can also be a good time to tell your parents how you experience it.

They may not realise what your experience is like. Read communication for more information.

Make a list of people you can contact

It can be a good idea for you and your parents to make a list of people you can contact if your parent starts experiencing symptoms of their mental illness. Having a “plan of action” can help you feel more prepared when those symptoms occur.

You should also make a list of people you can contact when you need someone to talk to, someone you trust. This could be a close relative, or a close friend, but it’s important for you to have an outlet too.

Talk to someone

Whether it’s talking to a counsellor or a friend, it’s really important that you do find someone to talk to. It might be hard to open up to someone at first, or to find a counsellor. With the right support, you will be able to get through it all.Check out telling someone big news and what to expect on your first counsellor visit.

Take care of yourself

Make sure you’re taking care of yourself, especially if you’re one of the people helping care for your parent. Sleep, eat food that’s good for you, and do things you enjoy.

It’s easy to experience symptoms from stress, but taking care of yourself can help protect you from stress symptoms.

Take time to put yourself first

You may feel guilty about putting your needs in front of your parent’s. However, remember your needs are just as important as anyone else’s.

Taking time out for yourself can sometimes feel selfish, but you need to take time for yourself to do things you enjoy.

This article was last reviewed on 03 May 2017

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