Talking about your own help-seeking in positive terms and describing it as a strong and courageous action. Telling your teenager how you have benefited from accepting help and letting them know it’s okay if they need help too.
Creating opportunities for your child to talk with trusted friends or family. Talk together about which family members or friends can be relied on for non-judgemental and confidential support.
Your teenager might benefit from talking with a professional, such as a counsellor or psychologist. Offer to go with them or to make an appointment for them. You may need to gently prompt them a few times before they are ready to take this step in getting help.
If they are very resistant to accepting help, ask them to talk about their concerns and explore solutions together. If you or your child have had negative experiences when you’ve accessed services in the past then talk about this with them. Acknowledge that you may need to be persistent to find a service that is a good fit for you and your family.
Accepting professional help can feel intimidating, especially if a young person isn’t exactly sure what happens at an appointment with a counsellor, psychiatrist or other health professional. You can reduce some of your child’s anxiety by describing your experiences or inviting them to attend some appointments with you or your partner, if appropriate.
Find out whether professionals who work with you can take a family approach by working together with you and your children. Be open and honest about mental illness in your family. Acknowledge the stigma that is often attached to mental illness and invite your teen to talk about any stigma they have encountered.
Prepare a care plan that sets out what should happen if mum or dad become unwell. Do this together with your child when you (or your partner) are well so that everyone knows exactly what to do and who to call. Emphasise that if they ever feel scared or alone they can call the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. If they are in danger or if it is an emergency they should call 000 straight away. Find out more about care plans, and access templates to use.
Additional things that can help
It can really help young people to know there are many other families like theirs. They may like to join in educational or social activities for children of parents with a mental illness. For a list of organisations that run ‘COPMI’ group activities visit the local 'prevention services and helplines' directory.
A range of social, practical and financial supports are available to young people. If your teenager sometimes has a role in caring for you or takes on a greater share of household tasks than is typical for adolescents, then carers organisations, Centrelink, local councils and community mental health organisations may be able to assist. Learn more at Young Carers Australia.
It's good to be aware of changes in your child. Symptoms to look out for include feeling stressed or sad all the time, feeling angry or anxious, not sleeping well or sleeping too much or changes in appetite, mood or behaviour. Early treatment is important and you can support your teenager to seek professional help.
If, despite your efforts, your teenager rejects your encouragement to seek help, don’t be discouraged. Continuing to create a home environment where you are open about mental illness and help-seeking (and providing ongoing opportunities for your child to talk to you and access more information if they want to) will mean the door is always open if they decide they need support at a later stage.
It grew harder and harder as we grew older into our teens and we were becoming carers for our parents. We didn’t know what to ask, how to help - and just got by and managed as best as we could.
Brooke, adult child of a parent with mental illness
1. Maybery, D.J., Reupert, A.E., Patrick, K., Goodyear, M., Crase, L., 2009, Prevalence of parental mental illness in Australian families, Psychiatric Bulletin [P], vol 33, issue 1, Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK, pp. 22-26.