Building your support networks: a guide for parents living with mental illness

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource was developed to prompt parents living with mental illness to think about their ‘village’ – the people around them who they can call on to provide support to themselves and their children when the parent is unwell. Parents without a strong support network are provided with suggestions on how to strengthen these.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Your support networks

The quote ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is used in many parenting resources. It refers to the shared understanding that parenting can be hard and that close relationships and networks (our village) play an important role in nurturing children – and in supporting parents to raise their children. If you are a parent living with mental illness it’s even more important to ensure your ‘village’ of support networks is strong. We encourage you to think about your support networks and if needed look at strategies to make them stronger.

Identifying your support networks

Who can you rely on during difficult times? Who can provide strength for you and your children? By thinking about the answers to these questions you can help prepare yourself for those times when you may be unwell and ensure you have supports ready. In answering these questions it may be useful to consider: 

  • Who can I share the joys of parenting with? 
  • Who can I go to when I need practical help to manage the everyday tasks of parenting? 
  • Who do I trust to seek advice from regarding my child and my parenting role? 
  • Who can I go to for support when I am exhausted, sad, not coping or grieving? 
  • Who do I trust to look after my child if I become too unwell (physically or emotionally)? 

There may be different people you turn to for support at different times. You may ask your parents to care for your children for short periods or turn to a trusted friend for advice when you are experiencing difficulties.  

Strengthening your village

It is also important to think about your child’s support networks and identify who they can seek support from if required. 

As a parent living with a mental illness, you may already have a strong village of support networks. Or you may find that when members of your village become overwhelmed or are unable to provide support, that you could benefit from strengthening or growing your village to ensure your children’s needs will continue to be met during difficult or stressful times. 

If you feel isolated, you may need help to strengthen the networks that support you and your child. A good place to start is your GP or mental health professional. They can talk through support options and make informal (family and friends or community support groups) and formal (specialist practitioners, support workers or other paid supports) suggestions that can help you during difficult times. Learn more about the role of mental health practitioners in our video series.

Alternatively, there are a range of programs and services that can help, including: 

‘I was too prideful to ask (for help) in the very early days, but as time went on and I saw how it was impacting on my wife and children, I wondered what I could do to help.

Jaisen, father of four, Tasmania

We know it can be hard asking for help. If you are feeling unsure, try and think about the situation from your family and friends’ perspective: if the roles were reversed, wouldn’t you want to help in any way you could? 

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