Parenting with mental health problems
Parenting comes with lots of challenges, which can be even more difficult if you're dealing with mental health problems.
Not all children who live with someone with mental health problems will experience abuse or be affected negatively. In fact, many parents are able to give children safe and loving care.
But sometimes it does affect their ability to cope with family life. So it's important that parents and carers can find support when they need it.
What are mental health problems?
When we talk about mental health problems we mean conditions like:
- anxiety disorders
- bipolar disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- personality disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder
This is not a complete list. There are many types of mental health problems, and if yours isn't listed, we're still here to support you.
How can mental health problems affect parenting?
Sometimes these conditions can affect a parent's ability to provide the care that children need. Parents or carers may:
- have mood swings
- find it difficult to recognise their children's needs
- or struggle with keeping routines such as mealtimes, bedtimes and taking their children to school.
If you, or someone you know is struggling, there's support available.
Help for children
Sometimes children worry about their parents or family members and might need someone to talk to. They can talk to Childline online or by calling 0800 1111 at any time 24/7.
There's also useful advice on the Childline website about supporting a family member with a mental health issue.
Taking care of your mental health
Being a parent can be challenging, and taking care of your mental health is important. Staying at home more or having to work during a difficult situation can put different pressures on everyone. And if you're struggling, it's okay to reach out for support from friends, families and organisations that are here to help.
Changes to our mental health can sometimes affect children and their well-being. They may pick up on your anxiety or low mood. This doesn't mean you should hide or minimise your feelings. You can try to explain them using phrases like, "It's ok to get big feelings, everyone gets big feelings but it's still the grown up's job to look after the children" or "If grown-up's get big feelings it's not your fault - we can ask other grown-ups for help with our feelings."
It's important to give children reassurance and support. Looking after your own mental health is vital to their well-being so don't be afraid to try new things together or feel worried about doing something for yourself to take care of your own well-being. And reach out if you need help. Our helpline counsellors are here, whatever your worry. You can call them on 0808 800 5000 or email [email protected].
10 mental health tips for parents
Trying new or different coping strategies can help support your mental health and lower stress in a positive and interactive way.
If you have coping strategies that work well for you, keep doing them – whether that's mindfulness, walking or as simple as taking 5 minutes for yourself.
- Being physically active might help your mental health. It also helps boosts your immune system and can help encourage your children to exercise too. You could try walking, going for a jog or doing an online class. If these don't suit you, you could try a gentler activity like gardening, sitting next to an open window to get some fresh air or doing a crossword.
- Maintain a regular sleeping pattern if possible. The NHS have tips and advice to help.
- Keep in touch with family and friends on the phone or try a video call.
- It's important to be healthy and eat well. We know it's not easy for everyone, and if you need help with getting essentials you can contact your local food bank.
- Keep a journal. Writing down your feelings can help you reflect, understand and let go of emotions.
- Join a support group or network online. Talking to others in a similar situation can help. netmums.com offers forums for both mums and dads.
- Create mini zones in the home where possible, allowing everyone to have space. If this isn't possible, try spending set amounts of time in different rooms if you can.
- Try to have some time for yourself, whether that's within your home or by going for a walk. We have advice if you're not sure if your child is old enough to stay home alone.
- Managing how you keep on top of the latest news can help reduce anxiety. You could create limits on how much time you spend on social media and set 1 or 2 specific times of the day you check the news. Staying up to date can help you support children with any questions they may have but it's also important to take care of your own wellbeing.
- Making a plan of things to do by yourself or with your child can help create structure and a routine for the day. Try starting your day with a short list of 4 small, achievable things you'd like to do. If there's another adult in your house or older children, ask them to play an active part too. But, if you're struggling with your mental health and emotional wellbeing it's okay to do the best you can and recognise there will be good and bad days.
You can help us support even more families
Where to find help
Other organisations providing support to children and families include:
information and support as well as helplines for people experiencing mental health problems and their friends and families.
- Rethink Mental Illness
Advice as well as services and support for people affected by mental illness and their friends and families.
Round-the-clock confidential support to people going through a tough time.
Emotional support to people affected by mental health problems and their families and friends.