Numerous children will grow up having a parent with a mental illness. In most cases, the parents will have a minimal or brief illness which will usually be treated by their family doctor.
However, there are parents who have a more severe mental illness such as bipolar or schizophrenia. In fact, 68% of women and 57% of men with a mental illness are parents says The Royal College of Psychology. In addition, many children live with a parent who has long-term mental health problems, as well as alcohol or drug problems and personality disorders.
Having a parent with a mental illness is more common that you think
I am a parent with a mental illness, I have 6 children and I also have bipolar.
Children are resilient and can usually cope well with having a parent with a mental illness. More so if the problem is short-lived and does not keep repeating itself.
It is not always within a parents control and their illness can last a longer time and may come back.
I have learned the importance of engaging in treatment and taking my medication. I understand what my triggers are and try to control my own mental illness as much as I can.
Like many parents, I tried to hide my mental illness from my children
But I damaged by children by hiding the truth as they could not understand why I had changed so much and had become distant. I wish I had been honest with them sooner and explained why I was behaving the way I was. I could have avoided a lot of upset and frustration. My children believed they were to blame because they were naughty. I felt that I was protecting my children but all I was doing was making it difficult for them to understand their own feelings and emotions.
It is difficult to explain to a child what mental illness is, especially when you are learning to cope with it yourself. Thankfully I have a husband who stepped in and became the main carer for the children, enabling them to continue their normal routine. I have kept away from them at those times when I would have caused them distress.
Had my husband not have been here I am in no doubt that my children would have need emotionally neglected and not cared for correctly. I was not able to meet their full needs. Some days just getting out of bed was too difficult and psychosis prevented me from managing normal day-to-day parenting tasks.
My children have never to my knowledge been teased or bullied by others because of having a parent with a mental illness, but this does happen. Even when children have all the right support and explanation, they may still feel upset, frightened, worried by, or ashamed of their parent’s illness or behavior at times.
I asked for support for the children and we have dedicated support worker who takes the children for day trips and provides a place to go when they have a worry or fear.
I am aware of the impact that my mental illness has upon my children. Having a parent with a mental illness can be tough on children, but there are steps parents can take to make it as easy as it can be.
Ensure they have a reliable, consistent adult they can talk to.
Provide them with information and explain your illness if they are old enough to understand. I printed off information I found on websites aimed at explaining mental health to children and allowed them to read it and ask me questions.
I have 3 younger children ages 6, 7 and 8 who understand that “Mummy has a poorly head”.
By encouraging and supporting my children in their everyday routine, like attending school, playing and doing things their friends do, I am doing all I can to provide them with as much normality as possible.
Just because someone has a mental illness doesn’t mean they can’t be a good parent, bad parenting and mental illness do not go together.
Do you think having a parent with a mental illness is difficult for children to cope with?