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

Worried about your child's mental health?

It's quite common for parents with a mental illness to worry about the mental health of their own children...

Dad with childrenWhen should I worry?

It is normal for children to have problems from time to time, and to express emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration, or to show anxiety. 

You probably know your child better than anyone else, so should consider chatting to a qualified professional if you observe the your child:

  • is regularly anxious or distressed
  • is upset and can't be comforted or is having problems that seem to be getting worse
  • has a sudden change in their usual behaviour that lasts longer than two weeks or that is hurting them or other people
  • has problems that are getting in the way of their daily functioning
  • has problems with eating, sleeping, concentrating or doing usual tasks such as school work or joining in regular social or family activities.

If you're concerned and want to ask questions or think your child might need support, it's a good idea to seek a professional’s help.

Who should I go to?

A good place to start is your child’s doctor or paediatrician. They will be able to help recognise if your child needs help, or if your concerns are a normal part of your child’s growth. You can also approach:

  • your local community mental health service
  • a social worker
  • a psychologist /counsellor
  • your local child health nurse – there may be one at your child’s school.

KidsMatter (the Australian KidsMatter (the Australian mental health initiative for primary schools and early childhood education and care services) offers some great suggestions as to who to approach – including helplines you can call for information.

Genetic inheritance

Genetic inheritance is only one of a number of different factors that impact on your child’s mental health. Other factors include:

  • the unique temperament and personality of your child
  • their age and social connections (e.g. through school and friends)
  • difficult life events they may have been exposed to
  • the nature of your mental illness
  • your family relationships
  • the involvement of other adults in your child’s life.

Research shows there are things you can do and a number of interventions that can promote good mental health in children.

What can I do to help?

You can start to assist your child, by:

NOTE: 'Risk factors' are things that make the risk of developing mental health problems more likely, whilst 'protective factors' help lower the impact of stress and help kids cope better.

    • KidsMatter offer a helpful factsheet with suggestions for parents and carers to help build protective factors
    • In addition to the above another significant protective factor is ensuring children understand their parents mental illness and can talk with them about it. This page is all about how to start the conversation with children of different age groups.

See also:



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.