Supporting parents and children with a mental health illness

You and your child

Parenting isn’t always easy. Although it’s often amazing and rewarding to watch your children grow, and to help them learn to be independent, it can also be really hard work.

New College Pontefract has a number of Self-help guides and sign posting information in our Counselling section in Moodle that Students themselves can access.

You will also find some useful information links and support at the bottom of this section.

The following tips are for any parent who is worried about their child, or their own parenting skills:

  • Make sure they know you love them and are proud of them. Even when things are busy or stressful, and it feels like you are in survival mode, a word or a hug can reassure them a huge amount. Praise them for what they do well, and encourage them to try new things.
  • Be honest about your feelings – you don’t have to be perfect. We all get things wrong and shout or say unkind things from time to time. If this happens, say sorry to your child afterwards and explain why it happened, they will learn from you that it’s OK to make mistakes and that it doesn’t make you a bad person.
  • Be clear about what is and isn’t acceptable – and tell them why. Children need to know what is OK and what isn’t, and what will happen if they cross the line. Follow through on what you say as otherwise they may get confused or stop respecting the boundaries.
  • Own your own role – you are the parent, so don’t be afraid to take tough decisions. If your child sees you are scared of their reaction and always give in to them, it can make them feel very powerful, which can be frightening. Children need to know that you are there to keep them safe.

Helping your child

  • Worrying or difficult behaviour might be short-lived, so give it some time. All children go through stages of feeling anxious or angry and they can show this in lots of ways, for example, tantrums, crying, sleeping problems or fighting with friends or siblings. They might be adapting to a change in the family or in their school life, or just trying out new emotions, and will generally grow out of worrying behaviour on their own or with family support.
  • With older children, they might not want to talk at first. Let them know you are concerned about them, and are there if they need you. Sending an email or a text can work better if this is the way your child likes to communicate.
  • Ask your child what they think would help – they often have good ideas about solving their own problems.
  • If you can, talk to your child’s other parent about your worries, when the child is not around. They might have a different take on what’s going on. Try and sort out how to deal with the behaviour together so you are using the same approach, and can back each other up. Children are quick to spot if parents disagree, and can try and use this to get their own way.

Looking after yourself

  • If your child is having problems, don’t be too hard on yourself or blame yourself. Although it can be upsetting and worrying if your child is having a bad time, and it makes your relationship with them feel more stressful, you are not a bad parent. Children often take it out on those closest to them, so you might be feeling the effect of their very powerful emotions.
  • If you had a difficult time growing up yourself, or have had emotional problems or mental health problems, it can be very worrying to think that the same thing might happen to your child. But the love and care you show them and the fact that you are trying to help will protect against this. Getting help for them and perhaps for yourself too can give them the best chance of feeling better.
  • If things are getting you down, it’s important to recognise this. Talk to someone you trust and see what they think. Many people go on struggling with very difficult situations because they feel they should be able to cope, and don’t deserve any help.
  • Friends and family can often help – don’t be afraid to ask them to have your child for a bit if you need some time out to sort out your own stuff. You can repay them when things get better for you!
  • It’s easy to say take some time for yourself but in reality this may not feel possible. You might be too busy, exhausted or hard up for exercise or hobbies. But even a night in with a friend, a DVD box set or your favourite dinner can help.
  • Go to your GP if things are really getting on top of you. Asking for some support from your doctor or a referral to a counselling service is a sign of strength. You can’t help your child if you are not being supported yourself. Some people worry their parenting will be judged and their children will be taken away if they admit they are struggling to cope. This should only happen if a child is being abused or neglected and the role of professionals is to support you to look after your child as well as you can.

Parenting with a mental illness

When you’re a parent with a mental illness, or someone in the family is struggling with their mental health, it can make supporting your child difficult. Here is our advice on what you can do and where you can get help:

One in four people are estimated to experience a mental health problem in the course of a year; they belong to families – they are parents, siblings, grandparents and other relatives. Many children will grow up with a main carer or close family member who has some kind of mental health difficulty.

Children who have a parent (or sibling) with a mental health problem

If you, or your child’s co-parent have a mental health problem, it can be tough. To a child, an adult’s behaviour may be worrying, upsetting or even frightening. Young carers benefit from support from other family members and the adults around them, but their responsibilities can negatively impact on their progress at school or college.

Many parents suffering with mental health problems, illnesses or disorders spend a lot of energy trying to protect their children from the effects. It is important to know that often young people who grow up with a parent with a mental health problem, illness or disorder can develop into particularly positive, caring and understanding adults.

Others, however, may struggle with a range of difficulties around their parents’ (or siblings’) mental health problems, or drug and alcohol use, including the following:

  • Not understanding what is happening
  • Worrying that the mental health problem is their fault
  • Having to help a parent with medication or personal care
  • Not being regularly looked after or cared for
  • Having to look after or care for siblings
  • Trying to predict what mood their parent or sibling is going to be in
  • Being shouted at if their family member is very angry or upset
  • Being scared their parent or sibling will self-harm or commit suicide
  • Seeing their parent or sibling self-harming, taking drugs or drinking
  • Money problems if their parent is not able to work
  • Missing school if they need to look after their parent
  • Being separated if their parent is in hospital or not able to look after them

These are things that may really make a difference:

  • Encourage your child to talk about how they feel, what their worries are, how the mental illness in the family is affecting them. It is common for children in this situation to become withdrawn and unhappy.
  • If you are not be able to be part of a discussion with your child, try to find another trusted adult who can help them open up. This could be another family member, teacher, counsellor or GP. 
  • Give your child clear information about what the parent or sibling is experiencing; this can help them to understand what is going on and that it is not their fault.
  • Try to help the young person have at least some parts of life and routines that are normal for their age group. Their education, their friendships, their sense of identity, their confidence and their ‘fun times’  can suffer very badly when they have a family member with a mental health problem, especially if they have become the main carer for a parent.
  • Contact your child’s college tutor to let them know what is going on to discuss what support college can offer
  • Contact your local young carers’ group and online support groups if your child has taken on a carer role in the family.
  • If you think a child or young person whose parent or sibling is mentally ill is having emotional, behavioural or mental health problems themselves, contact your GP for help.

Please follow the links below for The Young Minds Parent’s guide to support for further information and where to get help:


Responding to Anger

Helping Your Child With Anxiety

Supporting Your Child With Depression

Supporting Your Child Through Divorce or Separation

Helping Your Child Through Domestic Violence

Drugs & Alcohol

Eating Problems

Supporting Your Child During Exam Time

Gender Identity Issues


Supporting Your Child Who is Self-harming

Parents Helpline

Many parents suffering with mental health problems, illnesses or disorders spend a lot of energy trying to protect their children from the effects. It is important to know that often young people who grow up with a parent with a mental health problem, illness or disorder can develop into particularly positive, caring and understanding adults. If you are a parent who is struggling with your own mental health problems or are just looking for some support, you may find our links to organisations below helpful.

Your GP can offer further help.

Anxiety UK

Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.

Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm)


Bipolar UK

A charity helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.



CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15 to 35.

Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)


Men’s Health Forum

24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.


Mental Health Foundation

Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.



Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.

Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)


No Panic

Voluntary charity offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Offers a course to help overcome your phobia or OCD.

Phone: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am to 10pm)


OCD Action

Support for people with OCD. Includes information on treatment and online resources.

Phone: 0845 390 6232 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5pm)



A charity run by people with OCD, for people with OCD. Includes facts, news and treatments.

Phone: 0845 120 3778 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)



Young suicide prevention society.

Phone: HOPElineUK 0800 068 4141 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm and 7pm to 10pm, and 2pm to 5pm on weekends)


Rethink Mental Illness

Support and advice for people living with mental illness.

Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)



Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)



Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers. 

SANEline: 0300 304 7000 (daily, 4.30pm to 10.30pm)

Textcare: comfort and care via text message, sent when the person needs it most:

Peer support forum:



Information on child and adolescent mental health. Services for parents and professionals.

Phone: Parents’ helpline 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)



Children’s charity dedicated to ending child abuse and child cruelty.

Phone: 0800 1111 for Childline for children (24-hour helpline)

0808 800 5000 for adults concerned about a child (24-hour helpline)



Advice on dealing with domestic violence.

Phone: 0808 2000 247 (24-hour helpline)


Alcoholics Anonymous

Phone: 0845 769 7555 (24-hour helpline)


National Gambling Helpline

Phone: 0808 8020 133 (daily, 8am to midnight)


Narcotics Anonymous

Phone: 0300 999 1212 (daily, 10am to midnight)


Alzheimer’s Society

Provides information on dementia, including factsheets and helplines.

Phone: 0300 222 1122 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm and 10am to 4pm on weekends)


Cruse Bereavement Care

Phone: 0844 477 9400 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)


Rape Crisis

To find your local services phone: 0808 802 9999 (daily, 12pm to 2.30pm and 7pm to 9.30pm)


Victim Support

Phone: 0808 168 9111 (24-hour helpline)


Beat-Support with eating disorders

Phone: 0808 801 0677 (adults) or 0808 801 0711 (for under-18s)



Charity working with people with a learning disability, their families and carers.

Phone: 0808 808 1111 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)


Family Lives

Advice on all aspects of parenting, including dealing with bullying.

Phone: 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm and Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 3pm)



The UK’s largest provider of relationship support.