Mental Illness In Parents – How You Can Help Your Children Better Understand Your Illness



Indeed, a parent can often be aware of what their child is going through, even when they are far away from home. Younger children may suddenly change their behaviour, such as withdrawing into themselves, communicating less with you, or becoming emotional on occasion. Older children, such as teenagers, may also start to exhibit symptoms. They may rebel against you, become depressed, and exclude themselves from family activities.

When you have a mental illness, it becomes harder for you. Some parents hide their illness from their children as best they can to avoid causing undue stress and worry to their children. Unfortunately, children are very in-tune with their parents and will often pick up on your illness regardless of what you want. This attitude can then reinforce that they shouldn’t talk about it, which is the last thing you want to promote. If we are going to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness, we have to start at the beginning with our children.

I believe that you should let your children know about your illness in an age-appropriate way. For example, you don’t want to tell your younger children anything that would scare them, such as experiences with hallucinations or psychotic symptoms. You could let them know when they are older and have a bit more world experience.

It is no secret that mentally ill parents manifest specific behaviours and symptoms that can significantly impact the child’s emotional adjustment, symptoms, and ability to cope. Dealing with your mental illnesses and keeping your children safe from them is the most challenging task of parenting, and it takes a lot of courage and patience to do that.

To make your life a bit easier, here is a self-help guide. It has some great information on teaching their kids about parents’ mental health concerns safely. Let’s start!

It All Starts With Self-Awareness

To make your children comfortable with your mental illness, you first need to be aware of your issues. You can ask yourself the following questions;

  • What kind of mental illness do you have?
  • How long have you been dealing with it?
  • Are you seeking any medical or professional help?
  • What physical and behavioural changes do you exhibit?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you are prepared to talk about your illness with your children.

Relax, And Be Your Self

Be courageous and be your authentic self in front of your children. Having a mental illness is just as normal as having a common cold or stomach ache. Your acceptance of your illness will work as a support system for your children when they see you own it and that they can discuss this with you.

You Can Support Each Other

Your children’s biggest support system is you, and in return, you will often find the same applies to parents; after all, your children are your world. Your children can give you the best emotional support to keep going. And even if you hesitate to admit it, your mental suffering is not your battle alone anymore after having children.

When your children grow up, they notice the discomfort and unease in your daily routine, no matter how hard you try to hide it. Even teens and toddlers can get the vibes, and they are too young to express it. For example, if you have bipolar disorder, the children will start to recognise your mood swings and manias.

So, know the strengths of each other and stand by each other firmly. 

The More You Talk, The More It Gets Easier

When you are well aware of your conditions and know that your children have started recognising them too, what stops you from having an open talk with them? You can initiate the talk appropriate to the age and understanding level of your younger ones. 

  • Tell them that their Mum (or Dad) has this mental health issue, and it’s okay. 
  • Children with mentally ill parents are concerned with their parents’ behaviour that they may lose control in unpleasant and unexpected ways. If this occurs, educate them on how to cope with the situation.
  • Share your feelings with them and let them know what to do with them.
  • Tell your children not to be afraid when they find you upset or crying. It’s okay if they find you upset or crying – reassure them that you are ok; when you have gotten past it. Remember, we are only human, after all.
  • Teach them about the symptoms of your illness and how you usually deal with such situations.
  • Provide sufficient knowledge to your children to improve their understanding of your symptoms, reduce their anxiety and facilitate their age-appropriate coping skills. 

Overcoming Adversity

Living with a mental illness can be very difficult for you and your children. Some days are good, and some days are just the opposite. While mental illness is certainly not a positive aspect of your life, you can help teach your children that you can overcome adversity and live a good life.

When your children see that you get back up when you fall, you teach them valuable life skills. Everybody falls at some stage in their life, but what you choose to do with it when it happens to you is what helps defines you. I’m not saying you can “happy” your way out of a terrible situation, but trying and locating positives from the situation can be very helpful.

So while having a mental illness is negative, you get the opportunity to show and teach your child how to be resilient in this life, which may be the most important skill they will need to know!

Wrapping Up!

Being a parent, our children depend on us to help show them how to live life. You are certainly loved and cherished by them, and so you need to continue fighting mental illness and live your best life. Give your children the blueprints they need to survive and thrive. 

Remember, we are all human, and we all make mistakes along the way – none of us is perfect. Learn from your mistakes, get back up when you fall and show your children your inner strength. As in my book title ‘Conquer Your Inner Demons’.