Parent with mental health disorders

What is it?

When a parent has been severally ill with a mental health problem, either hospitalised or in bed or unemployed due to significant life interrupting mental health challenges.


How many children does this affect? 


Over 2 million children are reported to be living with a parent who has a mental health disorder


What could the child/young person feel like?

Shame, sad, lonely, wanting to be looked after, taking responsibility for everyone around them, loss of childhood innocence, jealous of other families, anxious, depressed, disappointed. 


What are the worst things we could do?


  • Don’t do anything that makes them feel that they have to pray more, help more or believe more for their parent. 

  • Don’t tell them that they should be grateful that they are alive. 

  • Don’t ask them if they are being good and helpful and looking after their siblings/ parents/ everyone. 

What are the most helpful things we can do?


Let them cry and whine because they probably can’t at home. Let them be little and play or laugh because they probably can’t at home. Look after them - make them food, play with them, have fun. 


If they are ‘naughty’ please interpret that as a compliment that they feel safe enough to be so where as they may well not feel safe enough at home due to their parent's illness. 

Validate the tough situation with words like ‘I wonder if it’s tough at home sometimes’. They will probably be too loyal to agree but they will feel safer that you know how hard it is. 

Let them know that you care and you are there to help them. 

From the NSPCC website: Parental mental illness can cause children enormous anxiety. Research shows children experience a number of fears and frustrations.

  • They would develop the illness themselves.

  • Being blamed for either making their parent or carer ill or for failing to protect them.

  • Expectation to act as a 'grown up' and carer at home but treated like a child at school.

  • Facing contradictory expectations from their parents or carers.

  • Fear of being bullied, singled out and stigmatised by other children and adults.

  • Losing the closeness they may have enjoyed with their parent before they were ill.

  • Their parent or carer might never recover or that their condition might get worse.

  • The family would be the object of shame or stigma.

  • The family would split up and they would be taken into care.

(Cooklin, 2010)

Where to find more info or help


Kids Matter


Mind and Soul


This is a specialist trauma recovery charity set up to enable children and young people aged 3-24 years to have access to specialised trauma therapy. It has five centres in Bath, Bristol, Bradford, Guernsey and Oxford