Children and teenagers of parents with a mental illness often have extra stresses and responsibilities that can impact on their wellbeing.1
It’s important that they get support when they need it. You can be a powerful role-model for them when it comes to seeking and accepting help.
What can I do to encourage my teenager to seek help?
There are many things you can do to prompt your teen to seek and accept help including:
- Providing access to online information about mental illness or giving your child age appropriate, printed information e.g. COPMI’s fact sheet for teens on help-seeking or visiting websites like:
- 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.
Consider talking to your child’s school about your mental illness so that they can provide support and encourage help-seeking in your child.
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.
1. Maybery, D.J., Reupert, A.E., Patrick, K., Goodyear, M. & Crase, L. 2009. Prevalence of parental mental illness in Australian families. Psychiatric Bulletin, 33(1), 22-26.