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If a Parent/Guardian has Mental Illness

Family dynamics can be difficult to navigate as it is. It can be even more difficult when you have a parent or guardian with mental illness, so these tips focus on how to cope when this is part of your family dynamic.

I Am Still Your Child is a powerful documentary that focuses on the experiences of youth living with mentally ill parents/guardians. Check out some of their stories.

Knowledge is power. Learn more about mental illnesses by checking out the Illness Pages on our website.

Breaking free from toxic relationships is one of the most difficult things you might go through. Setting boundaries and saying goodbye - or taking a break - is OK. It might give you time to reflect on how to move forward.

Having a parent/guardian who struggles with their mental health puts a strain on your life because you're dealing with it constantly. Finding a strong support network is important.

If your parent or guardian is having difficult getting treatment, share these tips with them about navigating the mental health system.

Sometimes you might feel like you've done something to cause your parent/guardian's mental illness or latest episode, but you are not at fault for their emotional state or actions.

Living with a parent/guardian who has a mental illness can be overwhelming at times. Make sure to take care of yourself.

You don't have to wait until it's a crisis to ask for help. If something feels off, trust your gut. You don't have to have all the answers. People will appreciate that you're being proactive. You can call someone you trust or a helpline.

If possible, it's good to have a plan in case your parent needs extra support. You can work with your parent or a doctor to learn what to expect, what to do and who you may need to call. The free Be Safe app can guide you through the process.

You can't do everything on your own. It's OK to ask for help!

Having a mental illness can make it hard for your parent/guardian to make plans with you and stick to them. If you feel safe doing so, invite your parent to do something together that you'll both like. This could be going for a walk, cooking, etc.

It's true that mental illness can run in families due to genetics. That being said, there are many other factors that determine if you will develop a mental illness or not. Just because your parent has a mental illness, doesn't mean you will develop a mental illness as well.

Your feelings aren't wrong. It's OK to feel mad, angry, sad or scared. Find a way to express your emotions. This could be talking to someone you trust, drawing, playing sports, etc.

Your younger siblings might ask questions about your parent/guardian's mental health. Be honest. You could say something like "Dad has depression. It makes him sad and he stays in bed a lot. It's not your fault." Connect them with a trusted adult if they want more info.

Sometimes mental illness changes people. It can be hard to cope with these changes.Big life changes can lead to feelings of grief and loss. Check out our tips on coping with grief and loss.

You might find yourself doing more around the house if your parent/guardian is sick. That's a good thing but it can be overwhelming. Prioritize what is most important and be okay with letting other things slide.

It's OK to ask your parent about their mental illness. It's good to talk about their mental health so you are on the same page. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, it's OK to reach out to another trusted adult for support.

Your parent/guardian isn't perfect. It's important to learn how to care for yourself while still having compassion for others. It's a really tricky balance, and it is good to accept that we always need to work on it.

You didn't cause your parent/guardian's illness and it's not your job to "fix" them. They are responsible for their own mental health. It's OK to help out, but not at the expense of your own mental health! Your parent/guardian loves you and wants you to be healthy.

Boundaries are important, but setting them can be difficult when your parent/guardian is mentally ill. They might overshare or depend on you more than they should. Start small. If your parent is oversharing, then suggest they talk to someone else who could provide more help or information.

If you feel comfortable, remind your parent/guardian that you love them. They will probably appreciate it. Mental illness can make people feel unlovable or unworthy.

If things become too much or too scary, it's OK to leave and go somewhere you feel safe.

Your parent may not be what you need them to be all the time, even if they do not experience mental illness. It's OK to let other people be what you need sometimes. This could be a teacher, coach, etc.

If you feel like you need to vent or need help/information, try Kids Help Phone or Good2Talk. It can be helpful to get an outside perspective.

It's normal to fight with loved ones. Sometimes mental illness can make these fights more complicated. Read our tips about healthy relationships and conflict resolution for help with this.

You might be worried about your younger siblings. Try including them in your self care (when you feel up to it). For instance, if you play basketball to calm down, invite your sibling along. This might calm your worries, as you know your sibling is safe and you are teaching them healthy coping strategies.

Even though things feel rough right now, it will get better! Shift your focus by looking to the future.

Get involved with things outside of your home life. Having something you belong to that is separate from your parent or home life can empower you to reach your potential, can give you a sense of control in your life, and can also give your brain and emotions a break from whatever is happening at home.