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...
When 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 following in your child:
- regularly anxious or distressed
- 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 Primary School mental health initiative) offers some great suggestions as to who to approach – including helplines you can call for information.
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:
- Being aware of the warning signs of mental illness in young people.
- Building resilience by reducing 'risk factors' and increasing 'protective factors' in children’s mental health.
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
- COPMI offer an activity sheet to be filled in with your doctor or mental health practitioner to assist you to help strengthen your child's resilience.
- 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.