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

Looking after yourself

When your physical, emotional and mental health is at it’s best, you set a good example and can better deal with your family's needs.

In these videos you will hear what dads and those who care for about them say about the importance of caring for yourself and how they do it.

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Your physical wellbeing

When your physical health is at its best, you're better equipped to manage your emotional health. A healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of disease, lift your mood and provide a sense of control in your life.

People under stress for long periods or who have a mental illness are at higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. So it’s important to make sure you are eating well and getting enough exercise. This will increase your energy levels, make you feel good and also improve your sleep quality, another key factor of good health.

Looking after your own health and wellbeing is important for your child too. Fathers are key role models for their children. Your examples will influence the lifestyle choices and behaviour patterns your child adopts and takes into adulthood.

Smiling dad

Choosing an active lifestyle

Controlling your weight is an important part of maintaining good health. It also affects your family. Research has found where fathers are overweight, the chances of his children being overweight quadruples, even when their mother is a normal weight. Overweight people usually develop their eating and exercise patterns early in life, so your children will learn from you. Control your weight by eating healthy food, not overeating and getting enough exercise.

Being active benefits you physically and mentally. If you include your children in physical activities, you will create positive habits for them too. Involving children can make the activity more enjoyable, and be a more effective use of time. You’ll benefit emotionally too, by building better relationships with your child.

What you can do (click to reveal information)
  • Exercise or play with your children — kids love ‘rough and tumble’ games like pillow-fights, touch footy or ‘zombie play fights’.
  • Walk the dog regularly with the kids or take them to the park and take a ball. As you get near home pick up the pace by yelling “last one back is a rotten egg!”
  • Build a go-kart with the kids and take turns pushing it around.
  • Make kites (check out the internet or library for instructions) and take the kids to the beach to fly them.
  • In autumn get the kids to help rake up leaves. In winter collect wood for the fire together. This makes chores more fun too.
  • Walk the kids to school or ride your bike at least once a week.

Healthy eating

Perhaps you need to assess what you’re eating and make changes. Eating patterns are usually habitual, so changes may seem difficult at first. Try starting with a small change and introduce others once you’ve got it ‘down-pat’. Persist, as it won’t take long until it becomes natural and enjoyable. Like exercise, involving your children in your eating habits can make it more fun for both of you. It also reminds you it’s important to be healthy for each other.

What you can do (click to reveal information)
  • Make healthy meals with or for your children. Get them to help with a fruit salad for dessert or peel and prepare vegetables.
  • If you’re not much of a cook, you can enjoy learning. Your local library has plenty of basic cook books you can borrow.
  • Learn to cook with your kids. Take it in turns to read the instructions. Then you can all wash up together.
  • Make a chart for the fridge to record the family’s fruit and vegetable intake. Mark off everyone’s 5 serves of vegies and 2 serves of fruit with a smiley face. 
  • Break bad habits by thinking them though before they happen and be ready to counteract, eg. if you usually buy icecream when you stop for petrol, keep an apple in the car to eat instead.
  • It’s the quirky ‘dad’ things you do with your child that will always endear you to them. When you (or your partner) aren’t well, you can forget to have fun but it’s important for the whole family. Laughter is great medicine.

Alcohol and other drugs

Alcohol, cigarettes and drugs (including misuse of prescription drugs) can affect your physical and mental health and your children’s. They might make you feel good for a while, but can harm the health of your children and affect your ability to parent.  If taking these drugs has become a habit, you might not know until you try stopping and find it hard. There are plenty of free services that can help you quit and won’t make negative judgements about you.

What you can do (click to reveal information)
  • Reduce your use of alcohol and other drugs if necessary.
  • Quit smoking. Call the Quitline 13 78 48 for help.
  • For help on managing your drinking, contact your state drug and alcohol services.

Get quality sleep

A good night’s sleep refreshes the mind and repairs the body. Poor sleep can make you irritable and sap your energy, making you tired throughout the day. When you don’t get enough sleep you will find it hard to concentrate on things and it will increase your stress.

What you can do (click to reveal information)
  • Be physically active and avoid sleep during the day, unless you are a shift-worker.
  • Talk to family or friends to get things off your chest. Bottled up thoughts can play on your mind when you’re trying to sleep (see ‘Looking after your emotional wellbeing’).
  • Have a routine so you wake up and go to bed the same time each day and night.
  • A dim, cool, restful bedroom will help with sound sleep. 
  • If you have trouble getting to sleep, do something relaxing like reading or listening to music at least 30 minutes before bedtime. 
  • Aim to get a good 8 hours sleep in each 24 hour period.

Your emotional wellbeing

When your physical, emotional and mental health is at it’s best, you set good examples for your child to develop positive life skills.

Balancing work and life

Having time for work, family and yourself  can often seem out of the question. But if you think about priorities, you can plan time effectively. When you feel you have the balance right, it will reduce stress and anxiety and give you more time to do things you enjoy with your family and by yourself. This will improve or maintain your health and relationships, and help you manage your responsibilities without burning out.

It’s important to have hobbies and interests outside of work and home so you don’t feel ‘boxed in’. You might combine your own needs while spending time with you children, eg. going for a bike ride or doing family chores together or preparing the family meal. Every family is unique, so work out what’s important to you and meets your circumstances. This is essential for a balanced life. 

What you can do (click to reveal information)
  • Create an activity log to see how you spend your time.
  • Track your time over a few days and review how you spent it.
  • Decide if you’re spending enough time on the things you value most.
  • After this assessment draw up a schedule to use your time more effectively.
  • Make enough time for your interests or find a new one like gardening, woodwork or fishing.
  • When introducing changes, consider the time you spend with your children, how you are involved in their everyday routines and your contribution to the household.

You might combine your own needs while spending time with your children, eg. going for a bike ride or doing family chores together or preparing the family meal. Every family is unique, so work out what's important to you and meets your circumstances.

Managing emotions

Being aware of your feelings and thoughts, and how they affect your behaviour is important for positive relationships.

Having a positive perception (healthy self-esteem) and managing conflict, anger and stress effectively can be learnt or developed. These valuable skills will have a positive impact on your children, partner and community. If they’re lacking, they’ll impact negatively.

If you need help to manage your emotions, find someone to confide in—a friend, professional or family member—for support. Being isolated from friends and social support is associated with higher levels of depression, and higher levels of diseases. You need to stay connected with friends and loved ones for your own wellbeing.

What you can do (click to reveal information)
  • Share regular meals and outings with family or friends or stay in touch by calling often.
  • Create a ‘third place’ other than work or home, like a social club or group.
  • Attend a ‘Mens Shed’ to work on projects of your own or with other men without pressure; or have a yarn and a cuppa. Find your local shed on 1300 550 009 or visit
  • Join online social networks (discussion forum) or
  • Start a journal and write about your thoughts, feelings and activities.


More for dads



Need to talk to someone?

Are you a parent with depression or anxiety?

Help your family understand. Find out how to discuss mental illness with them.