Does your parent have a mental illness? Children look to their parents to be emotionally stable and in good mental health, but this isn’t always the case. Whether the child is still underage or an adult, it can be disconcerting to have a parent who struggles with a mental health disorder.

According to to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 5 US adults live with a mental illness. And in addition to that, two-thirds of females and one-half of males who have a severe mental illness will become parents.

The effects of parental mental illness can also have long-term implications for children. These children are at a higher risk for developing mental health issues themselves, due to both genetic factors and the challenging environment. A report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine indicates that parents with mental illness are two to three times more likely to have children with psychiatric disorders compared to parents without mental illness. This highlights the importance of addressing mental health in parents as a crucial part of promoting healthy child development and breaking the cycle of mental illness.

How Having A Parent with Mental Illness Can Affect Their Children

Having a parent with mental illness can indeed have a significant impact on a child’s development, experiences, and mental health. This doesn’t mean that all children of parents with mental illnesses will have negative outcomes, but the risk can be higher. These effects can manifest in various ways, including:

  1. Understanding and Perception of Normal Behavior: Children often learn what constitutes “normal” behavior, emotion management, and social interaction from their parents. If a parent’s mental illness influences these aspects, the child might adopt these behaviors as their baseline for normalcy, which could cause difficulties in their social interactions and personal development.
  2. Emotional and Psychological Stress: Living with a parent who has a mental illness can cause significant stress for a child. They may experience a range of emotions, such as fear, sadness, anger, guilt, and confusion. This can lead to psychological issues like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  3. Inconsistent Parenting: Mental illness can cause inconsistency in a parent’s behavior and ability to provide care. This could mean unpredictable mood swings, irregular routines, and inconsistent enforcement of rules, which can create a sense of instability and insecurity in a child.
  4. Stigma and Isolation: Children may face social stigma and isolation due to their parent’s mental illness. This can affect their self-esteem and social development, leading to feelings of loneliness and social withdrawal.
  5. Increased Responsibility: In some cases, children might have to take on additional responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings, managing household tasks, or even providing emotional support for the parent. This can result in ‘parentification‘, which can significantly impact a child’s childhood experiences and personal development.
  6. Genetic and Environmental Vulnerability: Mental illnesses often have a genetic component, which means children may be at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions themselves. In combination with the stressful environment, this can increase the likelihood of mental health issues.
  7. Educational Impact: The stress and distractions of living with a parent with a mental illness can impact a child’s academic performance and their ability to concentrate on schoolwork.

Do You Have A Parent With a Mental Illness?

We’re here to help. The team at our outpatient mental health programs understand the ups and downs of parenting with mental illness. Learn more about our programs below.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illnesses, also known as mental health disorders, refer to a wide range of mental health conditions that affect a person’s thinking, mood, behavior, and ability to relate to others. These conditions significantly disrupt a person’s daily living, relationships, and physical health. Mental illnesses are usually associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work, or family activities.

Common Mental illnesses include:

  1. Depression: This is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It affects how one feels, thinks, and behaves, and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.
  2. Anxiety disorders: These disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. They involve excessive fear, anxiety, or avoidance behavior that is out of proportion to the situation.
  3. Bipolar Disorder: This is a disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.
  4. Schizophrenia: This is a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. It may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior.
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape, or other violent personal assault.
  6. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): This is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead to compulsive behaviors.
  7. Personality disorders: These are characterized by inflexible and unhealthy patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Examples include borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.

Understanding A Parent With Mental Illness

Understanding a parent with mental illness can be a complex task, especially for children. The experience and severity of mental illness can vary greatly from person to person, even when they have the same diagnosis. Here are some general strategies to increase understanding and foster a supportive environment:

  1. Education: Learn about the specific mental illness. Understanding what the parent is going through can provide a sense of control and reduce fear. Resources can include books, reputable online sources, mental health resources, and support groups.
  2. Open Communication: If possible, have open and honest discussions with the parent about their mental health. This can encourage understanding and mutual support. However, be aware that some topics might be difficult for them to discuss.
  3. Empathy and Compassion: Understanding that a parent’s behavior or mood may be a result of their mental illness and not a reflection of their feelings towards the child can be helpful. Encourage empathy and compassion.
  4. Healthy Boundaries: It’s important to establish healthy boundaries. Children should not be expected to take on adult responsibilities or become the parent’s therapist.
  5. Professional Help: Therapists and counselors can provide valuable insight and strategies for dealing with a parent’s mental illness. They can also help the child process their own feelings about the situation.
  6. Support Network: Having a strong support network is crucial. This can include other family members, friends, teachers, coaches, or support groups for families dealing with mental illness.
  7. Self-Care: It’s important to remember that it’s okay to take care of oneself. Encourage activities that promote relaxation, happiness, and overall well-being.
  8. Resilience: Encourage resilience. This includes understanding that it’s okay to ask for help, that it’s okay to have a wide range of feelings about the situation, and that the child’s own needs are important too.
  9. Understanding the Role of Medication and Therapy: It can be useful to understand that medication, psychiatry, and psychotherapy play a significant role in managing mental health conditions. Recognizing that these are not “quick fixes” but part of an ongoing process can be important in understanding the parent’s journey.

Remember, it’s okay to seek help and support, and it’s important to take care of one’s own mental health. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and understanding it can help reduce the stigma associated with it.

Does Having A Mental Illness Make My Parent Bad?

No, having a mental illness does not make your parent, or anyone for that matter, “bad”. Mental illness is a health condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior, or mood. Just like physical illnesses, mental illnesses are not a reflection of a person’s character or worth. They don’t make someone good or bad; they’re simply part of an individual’s health status.

People with mental illness can be loving, caring, and capable parents, friends, workers, and members of the community. They might face more challenges, and there may be times when they struggle, but they are just as capable of love and affection as anyone else.

It’s also important to remember that mental illnesses can be managed and treated, allowing individuals to live fulfilling lives. If you’re concerned about your parent’s mental health, it can be helpful to reach out to a trusted adult or a mental health professional for guidance and support. You’re not alone, and there are resources available to help both you and your parent.

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How is Mental Illness Treated?

There are many effective treatments for how to deal with a parent with mental illness. Some people need the around-the-clock care that comes with moving into a residential center. For others, an outpatient mental health program may provide the right amount of treatment. When someone attends outpatient treatment, they attend therapy sessions during the day but can still live in their homes. This option allows parents to still be accessible to their children most of the time. Additionally, they have time to tend to other personal responsibilities.

Outpatient care consists of different levels. Which level works best for each person depends on their specific situation and treatment needs. Options for outpatient care include:

Mental illness can be effectively treated by using different types of therapies. Individual talk therapy, including dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), helps a lot of people understand their mental health disorders and make progress in managing them. Other options include ACT therapy, psychotherapy, and psychiatry

In addition, family counseling helps not only the individual but the entire family unit. Family therapy helps teach people to communicate more effectively and work together so that everyone feels validated. The family learns how to provide care and understands the limits and responsibilities of their loved one. 

How to Deal With a Parent With Mental Illness

How to deal with a parent with mental illness depends a great deal on the age of the child. If it’s a person who is underage, their choices are limited. Having said that, the child can still speak to a trusted adult such as a family member, school counselor, or teacher. They can express their concern about their parents and how they behave and ask for support and guidance.

Adult children of parents with a mental illness do have options for how to deal with this challenging problem. The first step is to get educated about the parent’s condition. Knowing what they have and how it impacts their lives provides a better ability to understand what’s going on. It can help to talk to a parent and ask how the child can offer support. As well, it’s important to establish boundaries so that mental illness does not provide an excuse for certain behaviors that can be helped with treatment. 

Children can learn to become more aware of signs that a parent is struggling. They can anticipate potential triggers and be aware of cycles such as those that occur with bipolar disorder. Family therapy sessions can help with this. A therapist can mediate conversations between parents and children in order to foster better communication and create realistic expectations.

Children often need support in order to cope with a parent’s mental illness. Children can join support groups or see their own counselors. This provides them with a safe space to talk about challenges and their feelings and experiences. Last, it’s important for children, no matter what age, to realize their parents’ mental health is not a reflection on the child. The child did not cause the disease nor can they force the parent to take care of themselves. 

Do You Have A Parent With Mental Illness?

Are you someone who needs help to know how to deal with a parent with mental illness? New View Wellness in Atlanta offers comprehensive care for a variety of mental health disorders. We assess each individual to understand the level of care best suited to their needs. Our outpatient services allow a parent to remain in their home while receiving focused care that addresses their exact needs. From there, each person can learn to engage in healthier family relationships.

If you would like to talk about options for getting your mom or dad the help they deserve, verify your insurance today. Our staff can provide the understanding assistance you need.