Being a Parent with Mental Illness

Parents with their child

Being a parent can be tough at the best of times. Some days, it can feel like a constant battle. Having children can be emotionally, physically and financially draining. If a parent also has to cope with mental health problems, then these issues are further amplified. But just because you have a mental illness doesn’t mean you can’t be a good parent.

Did you know?…

Estimates suggest that between 50% and 66% of parents with a severe and enduring mental illness live with one or more children under 18. That amounts to about 17,000 children and young people in the UK (figures provided by The Mental Health Foundation).

Positive Parenting

For parents struggling with long-term or severe mental health issues, at some point, the illness is likely to have a negative impact on their children. However, there are positive steps that you can take to minimise this impact and promote healthy development.

  • Children can cope better if they have an understanding of their parents illness. By explaining what is happening, they know what to expect, and this reduces their anxiety and feelings that they are to blame.
  • Promote as much stability as possible in their home environment. Establish and maintain routines.
  • Promote positive self-esteem in the child.
  • Encourage a strong relationship with a healthy adult (family member, relative or family friend).
  • Encourage healthy activities (hobbies, sports, clubs) outside of the home.
  • Help and support for the child within the family.
  • Nurture a sense of the child being loved by the parent with mental health issues.
  • Encourage friendships and positive relationships with peers.

These are all things that can be done within the family. But sometimes, it is helpful to have extra support from outside agencies. Services for families need to be family-centred, comprehensive and long-term to be effective. The services should address both the parental mental illness and the child’s welfare. They should include social, financial, health and education services.

Where you can turn for support

In the UK, there are a number of agencies you can turn to for support:

  • Social services
  • Family therapy (your local CMHT can arrange this)
  • Carer support workers
  • Adult mental health services
  • Child/adolescent mental health services
  • Young carers groups – support from charities such as Barnardos
  • Family Action provides mental health and wellbeing services for adults. They work not only with the person directly affected but also with their children and whole families. They are non-judgemental and focus on building on strengths to support the family.
  • Sure Start children’s centres give help and advice on child and family health, parenting, money, training and employment.

As well as this, here at the Mental Health Forum, we offer a place where you can talk to others about any problems you may have as a parent with mental health issues. The forum is non-judgemental, warm and caring.

Talk About Parenting With a Mental Illness

Last reviewed by the Mental Health Forum Web Team on 24 June 2021
Next review due: 24 June 2024