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

When your partner has a mental illness

Parenting can be tough on relationships and so can a mental illness, but there's lots of things that can help.

Unwell woman and partner

If your partner has a mental illness, it will help you if you gain as much knowledge as you can about it. The information on this page will help you if you are a partner of someone with mental illness who has been diagnosed and is aware of their illness.

In circumstances where you suspect your partner is not well but you haven’t discussed it, we recommend you do so sensitively and with empathy. SANE Australia have a helpful factsheet which can help you prepare for this discussion. The Better Health Channel also have some good tips.

Support for your family

There may be times where your partner isn't well and others need to step in and help, particularly to look after your children. Talk to your partner or other family members or visit your partner’s health professional (ask your partner first) to talk about what you can do to help them and support your children.

Young children will pick up on any tension in the house and may not understand the illness, so it’s really important to discuss it with them. When children don’t understand changes in a parent’s behaviour they often believe they have done something wrong or are to blame in some way. This can have a profound effect on their mental and emotional development and cause life-long difficulties for them. By talking to them about what's happening, you can have a really positive impact.

What to expect:

You may also benefit from this Carers NSW website which sets out some of the common issues you may face and types of support you may need. It features video clips of carers sharing their experiences, as well as photos and text. (Please note this is a NSW resource so the services and legislation referred to are NSW-based.)

Support by Centrelink

If your partner has a mental illness and you spend a lot of time supporting them, then you may be entitled to a Carers Allowance through Centrelink. It can be hard to fill out Centrelink forms relating to mental illness as they are often written for people with physical illnesses and disabilities. But a Centrelink Social Worker can help.  Sometimes a letter from your support agency or health professional to support your application can help.

Through the difficult times

If you and your partner argue, your children will pick up on it. Even if they are in bed or another room, don’t think they can’t hear or won’t be bothered by it – they can, and they will. For their wellbeing, it’s important to discuss issues with your partner with respect.

Even if you have a positive relationship with your partner, it can be difficult working in partnership through times of stress. Again, how you and your partner relate to each other can have a huge effect on the emotional wellbeing and development of your kids.When differences of opinion or values are in conflict, children have said it is often how you resolve the issue that is most important to them - not the conflict itself.

Remember it’s important that you are taking care of yourself through difficult times or your own health will suffer. It will wear you down, making you tired and irritable which will compound problems and stresses.

It’s okay to get help if you are having problems coping with the illness. Approach friends or family of yours, your partner, or your children's - to ask if they can help in some way, such as taking your child to child care in the mornings, or having the children around for a play date or dinner. There are also great community supports available and a range of helpful information on the links below. Remember that asking for help is a positive move.

Ongoing problems?

Cooperative relationships between Mum and Dad help children feel secure. When you demonstrate cooperation, especially throughout difficulties and conflict, you are effectively teaching your child how to work through problems successfully too. If you think your partnership is under pressure, seek help. You can start with Relationships Australia.

Links to other helpful information

Raising Children Network – information about parenting

Relationships Australia – relationship support and advice

My Child - child care services

SANE Australia – a useful factsheet

Beyondblue – information for family and friends when someone has depression or anxiety

MensLine Australia – ‘how to become a better partner’

Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia – Fact sheets including information for family and friends

Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres – 1800 052 222

Carers Australia – links to carers organisations all over Australia

Mental Health Carers Arafmi Australia - support and advocacy for families and friends with mental illness or disorder

Information for Carers – info sheet for carers on emotions and how to cope



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.