You’re not alone: finding out your parent has a mental illness

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource has been developed to help children feel less alone by sharing the perspectives of people who have lived experience of living with a parent experiencing mental health difficulties. It includes a number of suggestions on who to contact for support when learning that a parent has 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.

It can be hard finding out your parent has a mental illness, and you might feel worried, confused or even angry – but you should know that you’re not alone. In Australia, as many as one in four young people have a parent with a mental illness1 which means there are lots of others like you who are going through similar things.

We understand you might be finding things difficult right now but we’re here to help. We spoke to other young people who have parents with mental health difficulties and asked them what they would have wanted to know when they first found out about their parent’s mental illness. We also asked them what advice they would give to someone in their position. Here’s what they said:

  • ‘It’s normal to feel confused about how to help your parent – or to feel responsible, even though you’re not.’
  • ‘Remember it’s not your parent’s fault – and their behaviour is because of an illness, not because of you. Remind yourself!’
  • ‘Remember to have time apart sometimes. Time out and a place to escape to can help.’
  • ‘You don’t have to be perfect – you can show it when you’re struggling.’
  • ‘Don’t blame yourself.’

‘I really would have liked to know at the time that it wasn’t my fault because I thought somehow it was. The good thing is that with time and proper treatment, people may get better. But it can take a while… you just gotta hang in there and have some good friends or someone you can talk to.’

– Sophie, 18, New South Wales

If you feel like there’s no one you can to talk to try’s peer support network – which is a group of young people – that you can chat with via text about what’s going on.

  • ‘Think about asking your teacher or your school for some support – it can really help!’
  • ‘You can feel very alone at times – and it’s hard to talk to people. But keep in touch with family and friends. Communication and social connection is important.’

‘There’s no shame in asking for help or to talk to people about anything.’ – Casey

‘I would have loved to know earlier that there were kids out there like me. It was scary going along to the peer group at first, but it’s the best thing Mum ever got me to do. I’m really not alone anymore and I can get through it, just like I know other people have.’

– Jazz, 15, Victoria

  • ‘Accept your parent – they are still a person, just ‘unique’. They still have strengths.’
  • ‘Remember, you’re no different to anyone else – you just have a parent with a mental illness. And there are lots of us.’
  • ‘Remember to be your own “best friend” throughout it all.’
  • ‘Look after yourself too. It’s important.’
  • ‘Know that knowledge and time will make it easier to manage.’

‘It can be pretty stressful at times… but the good thing is that you can actually come out of it a much stronger and better person.’

– Dan, 19, Victoria

In the following video (4 minutes, 22 seconds), from the Looking Back series, Casey looks back on his fascination with the show I Love Lucy and the meaning he took from it, which helped him with getting support during difficult times.

Remember, even though it might feel like it at times – you’re not alone. Others have been through similar stuff to you and your family, and there are people who get it. Start by talking to a family member, trusted friend or teacher who can help you to answer your questions and find the information and support you need.

If you need to speak to someone right now, try Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 for 24/7 free talking help from any phone. They also offer WebChat, but sometimes you might have to wait a bit to chat to someone. If you need to talk because there’s an emergency or you feel unsafe, just call 000.

Sane Australia also has a helpline – call 1800 187 263 – and drop-in centres if you want to speak to someone face-to-face. Sane offers counselling support to both people living with mental illness and the family and friends who care for them. Our guide also has more suggestions on getting help when your parent is living with mental illness.

Helpful websites is a great source of help with anything you might be finding hard to deal with right now. There’s an online community, PeerChat and heaps of useful articles to read. provides lots of information to help you understand mental illness, plus a great section on how to support loved ones living with mental illness while looking after yourself.


1. Maybery, D., Goodyear, M., Reupert, A., Sheen, J., Cann, W., O’Hanlon, B., & Cuff, R. (2019). A mixed method evaluation of an intervention for parents with mental illness. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 24(4), 717–727.

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