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

How can I help my parent?

Mum and daughter having coffee on couch

Many young people have told us they want to know how to help their parent when they experience mental illness.

It can be hard to know exactly how to help - particularly because everyone is so different.

But there are lots of things that you can do...

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Learn about your parent's mental illness (click to reveal info)

  • It’s good to find out more about your parent’s mental illness so you understand what’s going on. This will help both you and your parent.
  • Try talking to your parent or another supportive adult about their illness.
  • It can be helpful to learn what behaviour is part of their illness and what behaviour is normal. For example, we all get angry or upset sometimes and that’s normal.
  • You can also read about mental illness here.

Cut them some slack 

  • If your parent is having a bad day it can help them if you help out at home a bit.
  • Maybe wash the dishes without being asked, clean your room, or look after your younger siblings to give your parent a break.
  • You might want to make your parent a cup of tea or pick them some flowers. It doesn’t sound like much but it will really help them to know that you care.
  • Entertain yourself if your parent seems to be having a bad day. Try not to take it personally – spend some time in your bedroom, or take time out by doing something you enjoy

Remember you can't cure their illness

  • You can do things to help your parent, but remember you can’t cure their illness no matter how good you are!
  • There are professionals and it is their job to help your parent – so don’t put pressure on yourself to fix everything.
  • Sometimes it might feel like you are making things worse, but you are not. It is not your fault if your parent has a mental illness.
  • It’s important to find a balance between helping your parent where you can and living your own life. Remember, you are young and it is important you get to do things other young people do.

Learn how to communicate

  • It is normal to feel guilt, anxiety, anger, confusion, sadness, embarrassment and loneliness.
  • alking about things can be hard – but good communication skills can help to avoid conflict with your parents, solve problems and even get things to go your way.
  • Not only will you feel better but it will help release stress, make things clearer and put things in perspective.

When your parent is well

  • When your parent is well choose a good time to ask them clearly about how you can help them next time they are unwell, and about what helps and what doesn’t help when they feel bad.
  • When your parent is well it will be easier for them to give you helpful answers to this question – and tips on what you can do that can really help them during the bad times.
  • Be open with your parent and tell them how you feel
  • It’s good to use sentences that begin with “I”. For example: “I feel sad when you are angry with me” or “I worry so much when you are unwell and I don’t know what to do”.
  • Ask your parent how they feel – remember communication goes both ways.
  • Remember not just to talk about problems – make time to talk about good things too.

When it’s hard to keep the peace

How can I encourage my parent to get help?

  • It can be hard to tell your parent if you think they need help.
  • Your parent might not want help because they are confused, scared or frightened. Or they might think they don’t need help.
  • Pick a good time to talk – don’t try and have a serious conversation when they are very busy or upset.
  • Tell your parent you are really worried about them and would feel better if they went and saw the doctor.
  • Ask someone else to talk to your parent if you don’t feel comfortable to do so.
  • Remember you can always call Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) for more advice!

Consider talking to someone

How do I explain my parent’s mental illness to someone?

    • Explaining mental illness can be very hard.
    • It may be best to start by telling someone you trust first, so you get used to explaining it.
    • Remember that not everyone will understand and people may react differently.
    • Here are some tips:
    • Start by saying that you want to talk about your Mum or Dad.
    • Say that they have a mental illness and that it is just like a physical illness, but you can’t see it because it affects the brain and feelings.
    • Explain what it is like when your parent has a bad day.
    • Explain what your worries are and if you need help tell them how.
    • If you have any problems doing this or need extra tips, then call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

How do I explain my parent’s mental illness to my younger brother or sister?

      • If your Mum or Dad is unwell and your younger brother or sister notices their different behaviour, it’s ok to talk about it.
      • For example... “Did you notice that Mum/Dad is in bed a lot lately?” or “Did you notice Mum/Dad have been really unorganised/grumpy for the past week?”
      • Then explain that it’s because of their mental illness, which is just like a physical illness, but you can’t see it because it affects the brain and feelings.
      • Tell them that Mum/Dad sees a special doctor to help them get better.
      • Tell them not to worry – that you can support each other.
      • It’s also good to tell them about Kids Helpline. The number is 1800 55 1800 and they can call whenever they want to talk about anything at all.

Know what to do in an emergency 

      • A care plan is something that tells you what to do and what will happen if your parent gets very unwell.
      • A care plan can help both you and your parent feel better and not worry so much.
      • It's a good idea to sit down with your family when you parent is well and do the care plan together.
      • Access a Family Care Plan for your family to fill in.
      • Access a Personal Care Plan for you (but remember to fill it in with your parent).
      • If you don't have a care plan always call 000 in an emergency.

Seek support

      • It’s good to have people to talk to who know what’s going on – that way when things are difficult you will have people who can help.
      • You might have a close family friend you can talk to, or a school counsellor. There are other places you can get support.
      • And don’t forget Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) you can call them even to talk through small problems.

Looking after yourself actually helps your parents 

Appreciate the good times

      • There can be a lot of hard times when you have a parent with a mental illness.
      • But there are lots of good times too – try and appreciate these good times. Maybe keep a diary about them? Or a photo-journal?




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