COPMI - Children of Parents with a Mental Illness - Keeping families in mind

About mental illness

Confused teen

Mental illness is a health problem that can affect how a person thinks, feels and acts.

Click on the links with orange arrows to see what you need to know - and links to more info!



What types of mental illness are there? (click to reveal info)

What causes it? (click to reveal info)

  • There is no easy answer to this question, it is different for everyone.
  • It is almost impossible to say that a mental illness is caused by one specific thing.
  • Usually, mental illness is caused by a combination of these things.
    • Too much or too little of a chemical in the brain
    • The brain working in a different way
    • Lots of extra stress or worries
    • Being upset for so long that a person ends up feeling like they can’t cope
  • Using drugs that didn’t come from a doctor or chemist may also trigger mental illness.
  • It is important to remember that it is not a person’s fault if they have a mental illness – and they can’t just ‘snap out of it’. It does take time to get better.
  • It is also not your fault if your parent has a mental illness.

How does it feel to have a mental illness? (click to reveal info)

  • Mental illness affects each person differently.
  • Some illnesses make people feel very, very sad (like in this video about depression), worried and panicky, whilst some people might feel very confused or scared.
  • It can help to find out more about your parent’s illness and ask questions to help you understand better.
  • If you are not sure who to ask you could think about talking to one of your parents, a family friend, your family doctor or a school counsellor. Kids Helpline is also a good idea (1800 55 1800)

What can help? (click to reveal info)

What should I expect? (click to reveal info)

  • If your parent has a mental illness their behaviour might change.
  • Some people are more quick to get angry. Others are very emotional and might cry a lot. Some people shut themselves away and don’t communicate. Often there is lots of confusion and chaos at home.
  • Your parent’s behaviour might be scary or strange, but remember it is the illness that makes them act this way and it is not your fault. They are still the same person, they just have a mental illness.
  • Sometimes people get better and then get unwell again – it can be really hard and a shock when this happens. But remember it is not unusual and they can get through it like they did the first time.
  • If your parent has a mental illness you can expect it to be hard at times, but there is support out there.

Does it run in the family? (click to reveal info)

There is a risk that if your parent has a mental illness you might get one yourself – but most people with a parent with a mental illness don’t get one themselves!

If you want more information, ask for an appointment with a GP and talk to them. They won't tell anyone about your concerns.

Getting better (click to reveal info)

People do get better from mental illness. Sometimes life can be different from what it was before, but life can still be very good for everyone involved.

  • Lots of people with mental illness have jobs and you can’t even tell they have an illness.
  • Some people with mental illness can’t work, but they can still enjoy good friendships and do activities in the community or at home.
  • Most people with a mental illness can still be a very good parent, but sometimes they may need some support from professionals.


Other stuff you might want to know

What happens in hospital? (click to reveal info)

  • If your parent gets very unwell, they might need to go into hospital for a while.
  • Hospital is a time for people to focus on themselves to get better and there are professionals there to help.
  • Some people want to go to hospital to get better. But sometimes people can't see that they need help and are taken to hospital against their will.
  • It can be worrying if your parent has to go to hospital as you might not know what’s going on, especially if your parent gets rushed off in a hurry. But know that your parent will be safe in hospital and get help.
  • Sometimes people don’t tell young people what’s going on when their parent goes to hospital because they don’t want to worry them – but it’s ok to find out what’s going on and ask questions.
  • The time people spend in hospital varies depending on the person – from just a few days to much longer.
  • A psychiatrist (pronounced ‘sigh-ki-a-trist’) and team of mental health professionals such as nurses, social workers, psychologists (pronounced ‘sigh-col-o-jists’) will see your parent and do an assessment of their mental health.
  • They will work with your parent to figure out what will help them get better. This may include medication, talking therapy, learning new coping strategies and other activities.
  • Some young people like to visit their parents in hospital and some don’t – it is up to you and your family to decide what is best for you.
  • Every hospital is different so it is hard to know what to expect. But there will be lots of other people there with a mental illness. Some of them might act in strange ways, but remember they are unwell and they are there to get better.
  • If you don’t go and visit your parent, ask if you can call them on the phone, text or write them a letter so you can still keep in touch.

What do Mental Health Services do? (click to reveal info)

  • There are lots of services that help people with a mental illness.
  • Mental health teams, doctors, nurses, counsellors, day programs, support workers and groups can all help people to get better.
  • All these services will do an assessment and work with your parent to figure out what will help them the best.
  • But remember that not every service will work for every person and sometimes it can take a while to find what works best.

What do Child Protection Services do? (click to reveal info)

  • A lot of people get worried when they think about Child Protection Services because they think they might get taken away from their parents.
  • But Child Protection Services always do their best to keep the family together and to help parents be the best parents they can be.
  • In fact, Child Protection Services can be a great help to families, offering lots of support to make things easier.
  • Sometimes, when a parent is very unwell and unable to care for their children, the children are placed in foster care or are cared for by relatives but this is usually only temporary.

Parents who harm themselves (click to reveal info)

  • Some people hurt themselves deliberately when they have a mental illness. This is called self-harm.
  • Self-harm is very hard to understand and it can be scary.
  • People self-harm when they are feeling extremely distressed emotionally because it can help them feel better for a bit.
  • Stopping self-harming can be hard and can take a long time.
  • If your parent self-harms they should see a doctor or other mental health professional to help them.
  • If you are worried and would like to talk to someone call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Parents who are suicidal (click to reveal info)

  • For some people with a mental illness, the distress it causes them is so bad that they can’t help thinking about suicide.
  • It doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong if your parent is suicidal.
  • If your parent is talking about suicide then they need to see a doctor or mental health professional so they can assess them and decide what to do.
  • If you are worried and would like to talk to someone call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
  • In an emergency you can always call 000. This includes mental health emergencies.

When parents use drugs or alcohol (click to reveal info)

  • It can be really hard if your parent is using drugs and/or alcohol.
  • You might feel shocked, scared, sad and or confused about it - this is normal.
  • Drugs and alcohol can change a person’s behaviour and the way they think – remember that it is not your fault.
  • There is support available to people who use drugs and alcohol. Your family doctor or other health professional will be able to help your parent access these services.
  • If you are worried and would like to talk to someone call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.


Want to read more?

Below are some extra links to information that you might find interesting.

  • Mental Illness in Your Family Anyone who has a family member suffering from mental illness will find this booklet helpful. It explains what mental illness is, the different kinds of mental illnesses and their symptoms. It also looks at the causes of mental illness and the impact that it has on other family members.
    Note: this is a UK resource so the services mentioned are UK-based. But the rest of the book is relevant to anyone.
  • Better Ways to Better Days A booklet designed for young people whose parent or carer has a mental health and/or drug and alcohol problem.
    Note: this is a Western Australian resource so the services mentioned are only for the Rockingham and Kwinana areas. But the rest of the book is relevant to anyone.
  • When your parent has a mental illness An information sheet developed by the Mental Health Association of NSW.
    Note: this is a New South Wales resource so the services mentioned are only for NSW. But the rest of the book is relevant to anyone.
  • ReachOut Packed with loads of facts and info, stories, videos, blogs and forums to help you deal with whatever you’re going through.
  • headspace The national youth mental health foundation who help young people who are going through a tough time.
  • Kids Helpline for teens and young adults Includes web and email counselling, games, downloads, information.
  • Youth beyondblue Information about depression and anxiety for young people.
  • itsallright Information about mental illness for young people.




Need to talk to someone?

Koolta: rapping about parental mental Illness

How does it feel when someone is depressed?