About mental health conditions
Mental health conditions affect the way people feel, behave and manage daily activities.
Some mental health conditions are short term. For example, some parents experience postnatal anxiety or depression in the early weeks or months after having a baby. Likewise, anxiety and depressive disorders can sometimes happen in response to stressful life events.
Other conditions, like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, chronic anxiety or major depressive disorder, can be longer term or recurring. People with these conditions might need ongoing treatment.
With the right treatment and support, people with mental health conditions can manage their symptoms and have happy, healthy lives.
If you’ve been experiencing negative or frightening feelings and thoughts for more than 2 weeks and these feelings are getting in the way of your daily life, it’s a very good idea to seek some help. You could start by talking with your GP.
Raising children when you have a mental health condition
All parents navigate challenges as their children grow and develop. But a mental health condition might make it harder for you to navigate the challenges of family life.
Routines and family rules help daily family life run smoothly. They also help children feel safe and secure. But if you have a mental health condition, sometimes it might be harder for you to:
- stick to a regular routine
- get through chores like shopping and cooking
- guide your child’s behaviour consistently
- balance the demands of a job with family life, especially when you feel stressed or confused.
Sometimes children of parents with a mental health condition step in to help their families with cooking, cleaning, shopping and so on. It can be good for children to do some household chores. But if your child is taking on a lot of daily tasks, it might be a sign that your family needs more support.
Staying connected with your child
Tuning in to your child’s emotions and being ready to listen and respond when they need comfort helps them feel loved and cared for. But sometimes having a mental health condition can make it harder for you to connect with your child.
Also, if you have severe symptoms like delusions or hallucinations, it can be very confusing for your child. Your child might not understand why you’re acting the way you are. Or they might blame themselves and think it’s their fault. Your child might also feel frustrated and angry with you.
If you have a mental health condition, helping your child get support is a positive step. A family member or trusted family friend might be able to help. Or your child can talk to a GP, paediatrician, teacher or school counsellor. Children over 5 years can call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. They can also use Kids Helpline webchat counselling or Kids Helpline email counselling.
Managing the challenges of parenting with a mental health condition
Whenever you can, talking and staying connected will help your child feel secure and loved. This can be as simple as a cuddle on the couch, a loving note in their lunchbox, or a family ritual like a secret handshake or nickname. Try to put aside time just for you and your child as often as you can.
Depending on your child’s age, it might also help to talk with your child about your mental health condition. This might help your child to understand when you’re not well, know that the situation isn’t their fault and cope better. It can be scary and difficult to talk about these issues, so you might like to ask your GP or psychologist for guidance on how to start.
It’s OK to ask for and accept help from family and friends. When you’re not well, you can let people know that your family needs extra support and suggest what they can do to help. This might be cooking a meal, giving your child a lift to extracurricular activities, or spending time with your child so you can have a break. People often appreciate being asked for something specific.
And if you look after yourself as best you can, you’ll be better able to care for your child and respond to them in warm and loving ways. Looking after yourself includes healthy eating, regular exercise, trying to rest and spending time doing things you enjoy.
Looking after yourself also means caring for your emotional wellbeing by sharing how you feel with friends or family.
Getting professional help and seeking support from family, friends and the community are the most important things you can do to manage the challenges of parenting with a mental health condition.
Getting help for a mental health condition
If you think you might have a mental health condition, it’s important to seek help as soon as you can. You can get many different types of help and support.
The best place to start is your GP. Your GP can refer you to a range of specialist support services like psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, rehabilitation services or community health services.
There are also many mental health organisations across Australia that have great resources and can put you in touch with appropriate services:
- Beyond Blue – information and support to deal with depression, anxiety and related disorders
- COPMI – Parents – resources for parents and families living with mental health conditions or problems
- Head to Health – a central access point for Australian digital mental health resources
- SANE – information about living with mental health issues and trauma.
If you ever feel like you can’t go on, have thoughts of harming yourself or anyone else, or thoughts of suicide, call Lifeline on 131 114.