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Nearly a quarter of Australia’s young people have a parent with a mental illness. Use these six steps to support the young people you work with and help them manage their family challenges.

Young people are at a greater risk of developing mental health difficulties as well as experiencing a range of behavioural, educational, social and developmental challenges. On top of struggling with their own wellbeing, nearly a quarter of Australia's young people have a parent with a mental illness. It is now acknowledged that most professionals who work with young people will come across some families in this situation in the course of their work. The good news is that you can make an enormous difference to the lives of these young people and their families.

Six steps to making a difference

1. Understand their experience in the context of their family

Be aware of the family situation and be prepared to offer support to help strengthen relationships within families. Some young people may be caring for a parent with a mental illness or looking after siblings when a parent is unable to. Check out this free eLearning course ‘Keeping families and children in mind’.

2. Listen without judgement

An important protective factor for children is having access to other supportive adults who they can go to when they have concerns or when their parent is unwell and they needs extra support. Try to listen without judgement, and be open to having the young person express their feelings.

3. Help to locate age-appropriate information

Assist them to find age-appropriate information on mental illness. For example:

4. Encourage them to seek help when needed

Young people tell us that one of the barriers to recognising that they need help is that their sense of ‘normal’ is skewed by their life experiences. Gentle, open questions that explore their situation can help prompt an awareness of the need to get help. You can help them by talking about help-seeking in positive terms, emphasising the benefits of accepting help and reinforcing that it’s okay to have strong feelings or to need support. Some places they could find support are:

  • their local GP
  • their local headspace centre or psychologist
  • Kids Helpline (1800 88 1800) which is available 24/7 for free
  • the ReachOut Forums
  • has a bunch of information for young people on getting help.

5. Get the parents on board

Where possible, engage with the young person’s family (after getting permission from the young person first). Suggest that the parent access information and support; the COPMI website can help.

6. Be prepared

COPMI has a range of resources to help you support young people and their families where a parent has a mental illness. See the following:

Next steps