Many parents with mental health issues can provide safe and loving care for their children. However, you may require additional assistance from family, friends, or healthcare professionals to help you get through difficult times. Whatever the reason, there is no shame in needing extra help as a parent. All parents face difficulties, but if you have a mental health problem, you may face additional difficulties. The severity of mental health problems and how they affect you can vary. You may require regular extra assistance or be able to function normally for long periods of time before requiring assistance. Other stressful life events may also make things more difficult.
When you’re unwell, you may find it difficult to: manage your mood or emotions around your children care for your children, either physically or emotionally manage your children’s behavior or set boundaries for them Other people’s assumptions or judgments about mental health may also cause stigma or discrimination. You may need to enlist your children’s assistance, such as getting younger siblings ready for school or doing housework. This can make you feel guilty and may limit their amount of free time.
As a parent, it can be difficult to seek assistance. You may be concerned about being judged, or you may tell yourself that you must continue on your own. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to be the “ideal” parent. Remember that all parents face difficulties, and there is no shame in requiring additional assistance.
Some of these suggestions may be useful:
1. Maintain your mental health
This could include eating well, making time for physical activity, quitting smoking, getting more sleep, or consulting with your doctor about different treatment options.
2. Create a support system
Find people on whom you can rely for practical and emotional assistance. Tell them when things are getting difficult and what you require, whether it’s assistance getting the kids to school or scheduling a GP appointment.
3. Maintain a routine and stay organized
Sticking to regular meal and bedtime schedules can help you feel more grounded and secure, as well as help your children feel more secure. Write down your family routines so that those who support you can provide continuity and security. You could include your children’s likes and dislikes in addition to their daily and weekly routines. If you can’t be as hands-on as you’d like, this can help you feel more in control.
4. Inquire with your employer about flexible working hours
A better work-life balance can help you manage work and parenting more effectively
5. Seek assistance from your local government
If your mental health makes it difficult to care for yourself or your children, your local government is obligated to provide social care. If they are caring for you, they can also support your children. It can be difficult to request such assistance, and you may be concerned that your children will be taken into care. This only occurs in extremely rare circumstances when neither you nor your partner, if you have one, can safely care for your children. Asking for help indicates that you are doing your best for your family and that you are a good parent. Your local government will have helped many other parents before you and will be knowledgeable about the best ways to assist you and your family. Asking for help could be a rewarding experience for you all.
How are children affected?
Many children who have a parent who has a mental health problem do not suffer any negative consequences. However, some children may suffer if their parent does not receive adequate support. They could:
- Concerned about their parent,
- they take on a caring role,
- putting their family’s needs ahead of their own,
- and they have negative feelings about their parent’s mental health problem.
- find it difficult to make friends or have been bullied
- keep their concerns to themselves and do not believe they can confide in a trusted adult
Some things can help children’s mental health if one of their parents is ill. These are some examples:
- their parent admitting their difficulties and accepting help
- receiving support from relatives, teachers, other adults, and friends
- having another caregiver who does not have mental health problems
- being parented consistently
- being supported by agencies that take a ‘whole family’ approach to supporting the child, their parent, and other family members
- wider community support, for example through a carers’ group or a faith group
Practical methods for assisting your children
You can take practical steps to help your children understand and feel supported by your mental health problem. More ideas for supporting your children can be found on our page about children and young people.
1. Information that is easy to understand
When children are told the truth, they feel less anxious, so provide them with clear, factual, age-appropriate information about your mental health problem. This can assist them in addressing any fears or misconceptions they may have, as well as providing them with the language to express themselves.
2. Make plans for times when you’ll be sick
When you’re sick, write down what you find helpful and unhelpful and share it with a trusted friend or relative. Children frequently carry this information in their heads, which means they take on the role of caregiver without seeking help outside the family.
3. Peer assistance
Young carers’ groups can be a valuable source of support for children, allowing them to meet other young carers, talk to people who understand what they’re going through, and participate in trips and activities.
4. Someone with whom they can communicate
A trusted adult who your children can talk to about your mental health, contact for support, and turn to for assistance in getting their voice heard can be extremely beneficial. This could be a relative, a family friend, or a teacher.
5. Getting ready for hospital visits
If your child is visiting you in an inpatient unit, it is critical that whoever brings them explains what to expect: how the building looks, how you may appear or behave, the effects of your medication, and how other service users may behave. A family room should be provided in mental health units so that children can see their parents outside the ward.