The impact of parents’ mental health

The impact of parents’ mental health

Monday, 06 July 2020

A person’s mental health can affect those close to them. It can be difficult for a young person if one or more of their parents are struggling.

This might be because they’re worried about them, or because the parent is not able to do the usual stuff they do.

If this is something you’re going through, here is an outline supports and other ways to help.

What you might experience

When a parent is experiencing mental health problems there are lots of different ways you might react. Fear, guilt and concern for their wellbeing are all common things to feel.

It’s also not unusual to feel some anger or resentment if you believe they should have managed the situation differently or managed their health better. This could be for a number of reasons such as using drink or drugs, not taking prescribed medication, missing appointments, or generally not looking after themselves.

As with most things in life, there’s no one right way to respond or feel, but here’s some things that might be helpful.

The experience

Although there is no reason to, you may feel embarrassment or shame at different points. There may be times when you feel you want to pull away from them as it is difficult or painful. On the other hand you mind find yourself looking after them. It can feel like a weird role reversal when we look after our own parents.

It can be a bit isolating having a parent with a mental health problem if we feel no one around us understands. Some people worry they are like their parent. This may feed into a fear that they may develop similar mental health problems.

As with most things in life, there’s no one right way to respond or feel, but here’s some things that might be helpful.

The main thing is to be as kind as you can to your parent but also make sure to look after yourself. This can be a tricky balance.

Try to remember: most people (including parents!) are doing their best, sometimes in really difficult situations.

Ways to get help

Ask for help

Whenever you need it, ask for help. This might be practical, like getting someone else to take responsibility for a job around the house, or getting a lift to appointments.

It could also be emotional support, like asking a friend to listen to a rant, or hang out with to take your mind off things that are upsetting you or getting you down. Read more about asking for help here.

Try to remember: most people (including parents!) are doing their best, sometimes in really difficult situations.

For urgent help

If you feel you or someone else is at risk, contact a trusted adult immediately. It can be a parent, an aunt or uncle, an adult sibling, teacher or family friend. Or call 112 if there’s an emergency.

Having an adult to call

If you’re worried about something happening in the future, figure out in advance an adult that you could call. Talk to them and agree that you can contact them if you need to. Put their number in your phone (and maybe ask for a work or home landline too).

The side profile of a young girl with long hair

What you can do if your parent has a mental health problem

Talk to your parent

Ask your parent what it is like for them. It may help your parents to know you‘re interested in how they’re feeling. This also creates space for you to tell your parents how you experience it. They may not realise what it’s like for you.

Inform yourself

Don’t be afraid to ask for information if you feel it would help. Look online for information about the diagnosis your parent has. However, make sure you are accessing reputable websites as there’s a lot of misleading information about mental health on the internet. Try HSE’s yourmentalhealth.ie for starters.

It can help to talk to a mental health professional about your parent’s mental health. Ask your parent about this to see if you could attend an appointment or part of an appointment with them. Or see if they can set up a time for you to meet/talk to a member of the team by yourself.

Set boundaries

You may be able to offer some support to your parent if you feel in a position to do so. At the same time, remember you’re not responsible for your parent and you may need support too.

Talk to someone

As with anything challenging, opening up and talking to someone you trust can really help. This could be a friend, family member, or a trusted adult. Talking about what’s going for you can help you feel supported and feel less isolated.

Look after yourself

Take a look at five a day for your mental health for some ways to look after yourself. Keep up your daily activities and routine as much as you can like school and seeing friends. Your school or college might also be able to offer support if you are having difficulties there.

Join a support group

Support groups for family members of people experiencing mental health problems can be really helpful. Look out for ones that are specially for children of those with mental health problems. This can be a chance for you to talk to and hear from other young people who have gone through similar experiences. Your parent’s doctor might be able to suggest one or google it.

One-to-one support

If your parent attends a mental health service, there may also be a social worker who can offer you some support as a family member of someone experiencing mental health difficulties.

If there’s a Jigsaw service near you, get in touch about talking to a clinician there to help you manage your worries. You can learn more about accessing Jigsaw services here.

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