Parents with mental health problems
Mental health problems are very common: one in four adults suffers from a mental health problem in any given year. Anxiety and depression are the most common problems and are often relatively short-lived. But for some, these problems can last longer and can be more serious. The most severe mental health problems affect only a small number of people, but they can pose a serious risk to the safety of those affected and to the safety of those around them.
Most parents who suffer from mental health problems are able to care well for their children. However, during episodes when their illness is active, they may struggle to provide the level of care that their children need, particularly if the family does not have much of a support network.
With adequate support within the family, many children are able to cope very well and may be relatively unaffected by a parent’s mental health problem. However, some children are more vulnerable. Babies, in particular, are at risk, as parents may struggle to meet their day-to-day needs such as feeding them and keeping them clean. These parents may also find it difficult to provide the emotional and social stimulation babies need to grow and develop.
As children grow older they may have to take on extra responsibilities at home, such as household chores or looking after younger brothers and sisters. This is also the time when they begin to realise that their family is different. They become aware of the stigma attached to mental health problems and are unlikely to talk to friends or adults about what is happening at home. Some children may worry that they too will have mental health problems like their parents.
Severe mental health problems can badly affect a parent’s ability to look after their children and keep them safe. These mental health problems are a common feature in child protection investigations.
If you are worried that your mental health is affecting your child, or you are concerned about another parent’s behaviour, you can contact the NSPCC in confidence to discuss your concerns.
If you know a parent who is struggling, you could try talking to them. You may be able to offer some support or encourage them to seek help themselves.
NSPCC: Advice and support for adults concerned about a child.
Police: Emergency and non-emergency police services.
Association for Post-Natal Illness: Help for women suffering from post-natal depression.
Mental Health Foundation: Mental health research, policy and service improvement charity.
Mind: Information on a range of mental health topics.