Parental Mental Ill-health

Safeguarding Network

February 2024 - 4 minute read

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Poor parental mental health can have a detrimental effect on the health and development of children and young people, which can lead to an increased risk of mental health problems for the children and young people themselves.

Around one-in-four adults in England will have at least one common mental health condition with women more likely to experience common conditions than men. Only around a quarter of those with a common mental health condition receive treatment for their condition.

It is thought about one third of all children and young people live with a parent with mental ill-health, around 7% of which live in lone-parent households. For some, the presence of mental ill-health may have little or no impact on the day-to-day parenting that they receive, with the child/young person remaining safe and feeling loved and valued. For others, however, the impact may be more significant, meaning that the child/young person requires help and support to understand what is going on and reduce the impact on their health and development.

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Definition of good mental health

Mental well-being is about thoughts, feelings and how people cope with the ups and downs of everyday life. Having positive well-being means that every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, help engage in work productively and can contribute to their community.

HM Government

What impacts on mental health?

Just like physical health conditions, there are a number of things that can impact our mental health, and these can be as a result of specific events or can build up over time. As humans we will all have good and bad days, and you will know the impact that an unexpected event can have on how you feel for the rest of the day or longer. Stress and duress can also have an impact on how we feel and how we relate to the world around us.

Factors which can impact on mental health include relationship issues, financial worries, employment worries, housing issues, discrimination, victimisation and abuse. Mental ill-health can also be made worse by substance misuse and domestic abuse. For some people, events that happened earlier in their lives can be the cause of current mental health difficulties, for example, abuse that they experienced as a child or young person.

Impact on children/young people

Children and young people can cope very well with upsets if they are short lived and they know what is happening, but often adults feel the best way to help them is to protect them from the truth and so they do not explain what is happening. This can leave the children and young people feeling:

  • frightened of what will happen to them or their parent/carer;
  • to blame for the situation;
  • worried that they might develop the same condition;
  • stigmatised;
  • confused by their parent’s erratic behaviour.

As a result of parental mental ill-health, children may:

  • become young carers;
  • have been neglected as their parents cannot look after them;
  • be teased and bullied by their peers;
  • be experiencing periods of separation from parents who have to leave the home for treatment;
  • be experiencing emotional abuse.

Spot the signs

  • Tiredness.
  • Worried about what is happening at home.
  • Poor/dirty clothing school attendance.
  • Hunger, malnourishment, neglect.
  • Distress.
  • Their own poor mental health.
  • Poor emotional responses to stressful situations.
  • Isolation, poor relationships, being bullied.
  • Use of alcohol/drugs by the young person.
  • Organisations can help children/young people by understanding that poor behaviour may be due to stresses at home and a cry for help.

What to do

  • Listen to the child/young person – what is life like for them, what are their fears, worries and wishes?
  • Help the child/young person to understand what is happening with their parent.
  • Create an open environment – avoid jumping to conclusions about what their life must be like. Not all children and young people are affected by their parent’s mental ill-health.
  • Understand what other things may be present – for example what additional stress there may be in the family (e.g., financial, relationship, abuse, etc.).
  • Look at what adaptations you can make to support young carers.
  • Check children/young people have safe relationships – in their family, with their peers and with your staff. Create the environment where it’s okay to talk even about the most difficult things. Where do they go to get help and support? What about when things are difficult at home (e.g., in the late evening)?
  • Know the signs and know what to do – use the checklist above, your safeguarding procedures and have the confidence to raise parental mental ill-health as a possibility.
  • Take action – and keep taking action until you know children and young people safe.

DSL Training Materials

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – Primary Schools – DSL Information Sheet

  • Handout for staff

  • Parental Mental Health scenario – Care settings – DSL Information Sheet

  • Parental Mental Health scenario – Care Settings

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – SEND Settings – DSL Information Sheet

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – SEND Settings

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – 16+ Settings – DSL Information Sheet

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – 16+ Settings

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – Secondary Schools – DSL Information Sheet

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – Secondary Schools

  • Presentation

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – Primary Schools

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – Early Years Settings – DSL Information Sheet

  • Parental Mental Health Scenario – Early Years Settings

  • Parental Mental Ill Health – Quiz (Answer Sheet)

  • Parental Mental Ill Health – Quiz

  • Parental mental ill health – whole group exercise – DSL sheet

  • Parental mental ill health – whole group exercise

  • My mum’s got a dodgy brain

  • Presenter Notes


  • I had a black dog, his name was depression

  • The Mental Health Foundation

  • NHS 5 steps to mental wellbeing

  • MIND

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