Getting support from school when your parent is living with a mental illness

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource was developed to help children understand what support they might be able to get from school when their parent is living with a mental illness.

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.

School is a big part of your life, and so it makes sense that when things are tricky at home, you might have some days where being at school is difficult. The good news is your school can actually be a great place to feel safe and find support – keep reading to find out how.

At times, having a parent who is experiencing mental health difficulties is going to have an impact on you. Sometimes these impacts will be small, and other times it might feel like everything in your life is affected by it.

It’s important to know that you don’t have to pretend you’re OK if you’re not – and it’s never too late to ask for help. It’s common to feel a bit ashamed, embarrassed, scared or anxious when you first open up about what’s going on for you and your family, but this will likely pass. You might find it’s a relief to get things off your chest and you’ll likely learn that you’re not alone. In fact, research shows that one in four young Australians are being raised by a parent living with mental illness.1 Support and help are available for you and other young people like you.

Your experience of your parent’s mental illness

Some of these might sound familiar to you. Do you:

  • have late nights because of your parent/s and what they are going through?
  • get tired and find it hard to concentrate on schoolwork?
  • think about things at home a lot and worry about your parent/s when you are at school?
  • feel hurt or affected by comments made or rumours at school about your situation at home?
  • feel less like joining in and more like you want to be on your own?
  • find it hard to finish your homework or school assignments?
  • get teased and bullied, or bully others when you’re feeling angry or down?
  • feel sad or angry all or most of the time?

If any of this sounds familiar, getting some support from an adult could really help. School is a great place to ask for that support because the teachers and staff are trained to help young people. They can help you and offer advice on where else to get support.

There is real strength in knowing when you need support – and asking for help.

Talking to a trusted adult

Most schools have a Wellbeing Officer or school counsellor who you can speak with confidentially about life at home. Speaking confidentially means that what you say stays private – between you and the person you have spoken with, unless you both agree otherwise or they believe you are at risk of harm. It’s the responsibility of your school’s staff to help young people like you if you share that you or a family member are in an unsafe situation. You can feel secure and confident about telling counsellors or staff at school about what’s happening in your life, as they are specially trained in how to respond when students tell them personal things. By talking you will help them to understand what is going on for you and what support you might need. When adults see young people reaching out for help they view it as a good thing – a sign of strength and resilience. If there is a teacher who you would prefer to speak to, or perhaps the school nurse, that is OK too. Just remember that you don’t have to tell them anything you are uncomfortable sharing – it is your choice.

School counsellors and Wellbeing Officers can also help by talking to your teachers for you about your schoolwork. Most schools have policies that allow you to get extensions on assignments and make flexible homework arrangements for students experiencing family difficulties. They might also be able to arrange things like extra tutoring at school or a quiet study space. Some young people choose to do Year 12 over two years, because they have so much going on at home. If you agree to it, your teachers can talk to your parents so you can work together on ways to support your success at school. These are all things you can talk to the school counsellor or teachers about. School staff want to support students to do their best no matter what their circumstances are and helping you balance your wellbeing and education is part of what they do.

‘The school has been awesome. They’ve given me extra time on assignments if I need it. They’ve set me up with counselling and given us boxes of food sometimes if I need to cook that night.’

– Sarah, 15, South Australia

If you would like to speak to someone at school the first step is to work out who’s available: is there a Wellbeing Officer, school counsellor or school nurse? If so, you can call them, send them an email or visit their office and ask to make an appointment. You might see them in the school yard in which case you can start by approaching them and simply asking, ‘Could I make a time to come and talk to you?’

You could also ask a favourite teacher the same thing. If they think there is someone who can better offer you support and advice, they should help you to make a time to speak with that person. If you would like your favourite teacher to be at your appointment, you could ask them to come with you. Remember, teachers want to help, and when young people reach out for help they see it as a very good thing, and a sign of your strength and resilience.

Support outside of school

You can call Kids Helpline free on 1800 55 1800 anytime for any reason. ReachOut also have an online community available 24/7 for people ages 14–25 plus lots of great advice on a wide variety of topics. Your family doctor is also a good person to approach for support. Other types of support include respite (where your parent is cared for by someone else for a period either at home or in another location, so you can have a rest), financial help, the Carer Gateway and other online resources. Learn about all the types of support you may be eligible for in Looking after yourself: a guide for young people caring for a parent.

Sometimes it can be difficult getting through life when you have a parent living with a mental illness. But there are people at school who will want to support you and help you reach your goals despite everything else that is going on. Remember, your parent is likely to be proud of you for having the strength and resilience to seek support when you are finding things tough.


1. Maybery, D., Reupert, A., Patrick, K., Goodyear, M., & Crase, L. (2009). Prevalence of parental mental illness in Australian families. Psychiatric Bulletin, 33(1), 22–26.

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