When your parent has mental distress

Key points about supporting a parent with mental distress

  • Having a parent with mental distress can be incredibly challenging, particularly for young children.
  • Even as an adult, if your parent has a mental health condition it can be confusing, stressful and isolating. It may be hard to understand why they’re acting the way they are.
  • Here are some tips on how to manage, what you can do to help and how to look after yourself. 
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1. Be informed

Research and learn as much as you can about your parent’s mental health condition. This will help you understand their behaviour. What is their condition? What are the symptoms? How can their condition be treated? Talk to other people who have gone through the same experience – they might be able to offer advice and support and make you feel less alone.

2. Be supportive

If possible, let your parent know you are there to support them. Offer to help them with things they might need. Let them know you’re there to listen and to talk to. As well as emotional support, they may need help with practical things like getting to appointments, shopping or cleaning the house.

3. Make sure you’re supported

Having a parent with mental distress can be emotionally and mentally exhausting so it’s important to make sure you’re looking after yourself. Take time out for yourself and don’t bottle up your feelings. Make sure you have someone to talk to about what you’re going through and the challenges you’re facing. Ensure other family members know what’s going on so they can help too.

4. Dealing with stigma and discrimination

Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of stigma around mental illness despite 1 in 5 New Zealanders experiencing a mental health problem each year. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed about your parent’s condition or you may have friends or family who don’t understand mental distress. Keeping yourself and your friends and family informed about mental distress can help reduce stigma and discrimination.

5. Seek professional help

If you are dealing with a parent with a mental health condition or if you had a difficult childhood growing up with that parent, you may feel you need professional help. That’s ok, just reach out! There are lots of organisations that offer support and advice.

It’s also quite common for children of parents with mental problems to worry that they have a mental health condition like their parent, and there is also support for them.

The Mental Health Foundation has a free resource and information service that will point you in the right direction. 

6. Get support 

  • The Mental Health Foundation has a comprehensive list of mental health support services.
  • Yellow Brick Road– an organisation dedicated to helping families living with mental health conditions.
  • Free call or text 1737 to speak to or text with a trained counsellor.
  • Depression Helpline (0800 111 757)
  • Lifeline (0800 543 354)
  • Samaritans (0800 726 666)
  • Youthline (0800 376 633). 

How can I help my child?(external link) Supporting Parents, NZ
Connecting with your baby when you are experiencing a mental health issue(external link) Supporting Parents, NZ
Communicating with your toddler or young child when you are experiencing a mental health issue(external link) Supporting Parents, NZ
Talking with primary school age children about mental health issues(external link) Supporting Parents, NZ
Talking with teenagers about parental mental health issues(external link) Supporting Parents, NZ
Parenting through challenging times(external link) Matua Raki, NZ
Living well(external link) Kina Trust, NZ
The best for me and my baby(external link) Children of Parents with a Mental Illness, Australia, 2014
Family talk(external link) Children of Parents with a Mental Illness, Australia, 2014

Note: Some of these resources are from overseas so some details may be different in New Zealand, eg, phone 111 for emergencies or, if it’s not an emergency, freephone Healthline 0800 611 116.

Family/whānau Tool-kit

Developed by MidCentral DHB in partnership with Supporting Families in Mental Illness, Manawatu

Family/whānau talk  (external link)MidCentral DHB and Supporting Families in Mental Illness, Manawatu
Kids plan(external link) MidCentral DHB and Supporting Families in Mental Illness, Manawatu
Family whānau care plan MidCentral DHB and Supporting Families in Mental Illness, Manawatu

Source: Supporting Parents Healthy Children(external link)


Family/whānau talk

MidCentral DHB and Supporting Families in Mental Illness, Manawatu

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