Parenting with a Mental Illness

Around one in six parents with a dependent child have a mental health problem or mental illness. Having a mental illness can make parents feel very alone. Parenting can be both a source of stress and hardship, as well as a source of joy, hope, love and motivation. Parenting with a mental illness brings its own unique set of challenges as parents with a mental illness might worry about losing custody of their children, have concerns about their capacity to parent in the way they want to. However, with social support systems in place, parents with a mental illness will feel nurtured and supported and this will allow them to be nurturing parents.


Having a mental illness can be physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting and parents with a mental illness can have a difficult time caring for children and providing them with a stable, predictable environment. Performing everyday duties and sticking to a consistent daily routine filled with meal preparation, school runs and homework can sometimes seem impossible and overwhelming. A parent might find it difficult to set limits and boundaries for their children because their own judgement can be influenced by stress or confusion.


More severe mental illnesses can have severe symptoms, such as seeing things that aren’t really there, hearing sounds and voices and thinking that people or things are ‘out to get them’. When this happens to parents, it can be very confusing and frightening for their children. Children can blame themselves and think it’s their fault or they may feel frustrated and confused. For children it can also be isolating and make them feel different to their friends and class-mates.


At times parents with a mental illness may need extra support and assistance. YLO Psychology Clinic can provide parents with strategies and support as well as work with children who have parents who suffer from a mental illness. Intervention may include:

  • Assistance to implement daily routine to promote consistency and predictability within the home environment
  • Behaviour management strategies to provide clear boundaries and limits
  • Assisting parents to access wider social support networks
  • Developmentally appropriate education to children about their parent’s mental illness