How to cope when a parent or loved one is suffering with a mental illness

Updated: Apr 24

One of the most challenging and daunting chapters most people will face in life is when someone who we really care about becomes sick or unwell.



It can be very worrying to see family members - especially our parents become vulnerable to conditions beyond their control, whether it be a mental or physical illness.


In the case of a mental health concern this can be especially dismaying, given how it can, in some cases, affect our personalities, and even our appearance or physical wellbeing.


It can be scary whether you still live at home or even if you have flown the nest and are living on your own, or away at college.


The most important thing to remember is that your parents or loved ones illness is NEVER your fault.

It is paramount that you know that even if a loved one or parent does lash out and blames you for their illness, or how they are feeling - that this is not true. While you want to be there for your parent to care and support them you must also take care of your own mental wellbeing.


Seeing people we look up to, or who we turn to for support, struggling themselves can be tough, and it's ok to feel daunted or unsure of what to do next.


You may be experiencing some of these feelings:


  • Sad

  • Lonely

  • Guilty

  • Angry

  • Desolate

  • Worried

  • Scared

  • Isolated


It is perfectly normal and ok to experience one or several of these emotions. You may feel lonely or isolated as you feel you can't talk to anyone about it.


Maybe you don't know how or if you should talk to your friends about what has been happening. You may also even avoid inviting people over or leaving the house due to worry for your parents.


Feeling angry, mad or frustrated is understandable also. Living with a parent who has a mental illness may not always be easy.


It’s also normal to feel scared or anxious about what might happen, and it’s okay if you find the experience upsetting.


It's ok also to feel worried about your parent as you don’t know what the future holds for them and would love to be able to help them.


Here are some ways that may help you through this time:


Talk To Someone


Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling and what you are experiencing. You can reach out to a sibling, a family member, a friend, teacher or even your GP. If you don't feel comfortable chatting to someone you know about your feelings counselling may be an option for you.


Learn About Mental Illness


If your parent or guardian has been diagnosed with a mental illness, take the time to research or learn about their condition. This can help us learn what to expect, and understand more about what they are feeling or even their behaviour. Look for information from reliable websites and sources such as HSE.ie. You will also find more information in our Mental Health section. If you feel comfortable you can also ask your parents to explain their condition to you.



Talk To Them


Approaching a parent to discuss their feelings or problems can be a daunting prospect, but talking can be a positive thing for both of you.


It will let your parent or loved one know that you care and that you are trying to understand more about their condition.


It will give you the opportunity to ask questions, or open a dialogue about worries or concerns that have been playing on your mind.


You can talk about what it is like for them, open up about how it makes you feel, or discuss things both of you could try to make things a little better.


If possible, try and have this conversation when things are going well and avoid trying to talk about it if one or both of you becomes upset or angry.


If you feel like talking to them isn't an option, that doesn't mean you have to keep everything to yourself.


Contact Talk ToTom or another listening service (information below)


Stay Safe


If you suspect that your parent or loved one may be suffering from a mental illness - but they have not told you about it or sought treatment - it's important not to make your own diagnosis.


If you have noticed unusual or erratic behaviour talk to someone you trust about what you have noticed. If you live alone with your parent or guardian you may need to approach a relative, teacher, or neighbour.


In some very rare instances, some conditions may cause a person to become a danger to themselves or others . If you believe this to be the case contact someone you trust, and or a doctor/emergency services.


Self-Care


During this stressful time it is really important to remember to look after yourself and your own wellbeing. Do things you enjoy, fill your mind with things you love and de-stress.


Self care is individualised. Find things that you enjoy, take time out of your day to focus on you. For example, apply a face mask, practise meditation, exercise, play sport, practise yoga, draw, sip tea in fuzzy pjs with a magazine or a book. You are important too!


Don’t not feel guilty - This is not your issue to fix.


You are not responsible for making your parents feel better. You can, of course, show them you care and love them through support and acts of kindness, however their mental health is their own responsibility and will only get better with the help of mental health professionals and doctors.


There are a number of support services available for you and/or you parent and most can be contacted through email, text or call.



If you need further support remember to let us help you here at #talktotom. We can be your guide - contact us on (0818) 303061or via Whats App.  To launch a chat now click here.  You can find out more about our counselling service here.



Other services you where you can reach someone to talk to are:

Samaritans offers a 24 hour listening service over text message, text 'Hello' to 087 260 9090 to get started (standard text messaging rates apply) or call 116 123 to talk to someone over the phone.

Childline text and instant messaging services are available from 10am - 4am every day to young people under 18, text 'Talk' to 50101 to talk to a trained counsellor by text message or call 1800 66 66 66

Teenline is a non-directive, non-judgemental and confidential helpline for teenagers age 13-19. They offer a freephone listening service. You can contact them by: Calling 1800 83 36 34 (8-11pm Monday to Friday)




Visit Your GP:

We always recommend that you visit your GP if you have struggling with your mental health.  Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed.  Your doctor is a professional health care provider and will be familiar with how you are feeling.  Your mental health is just that - your health.  You would visit your GP if you had been feeling physically unwell right ?  Your emotional health is just as important as your physical well-being - in fact the two go hand in hand.  If you don’t have a current GP you can find a list of services in your area here.  You can also contact the CareDoc service on 1850 334 999



Contact the Emergency Services:

If you are an immediate danger to yourself or if you believe a loved one to be in immediate danger and going through a suicidal crisis please contact the emergency services by calling 999 or visit your nearest Emergency Department.