Helping Children Make Sense of a Parent’s Mental Illness

Explaining mental illness to a child can be a challenging task for any parent living with mental illness. But it’s important to talk openly with children so they can make better sense of what the parent is going through and interpret certain behaviors they observe. Studies suggest that children who do not understand their parent’s mental illness will often internalize feelings of anger, guilt, anxiety and isolation as a way of coping with their daily experiences. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) suggests it may be helpful to approach the subject of mental illness by comparing it to physical illnesses so children can relate and make sense of the information.

The AACAP reminds parents to:

  • Provide information about mental illness and how the parent is going to get better.
  • Assure the child that he or she is not to blame.
  • Engage help and support from family members.
  • Consider family therapy to strengthen the positive elements in the home and help the child cope.
  •  Encourage the child to foster a strong relationship with a healthy adult.

Visit Psych Central for additional tips, suggestions and facts on discussing parental mental illness.


Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry

By: Bebe Moore Campbell & E. B. Lewis

This children’s book illustrates the experience of a young girl whose mother lives with bipolar disorder and uses simple language to describe the child’s coping skills as she makes sense of her environment.

I’m Not Alone: A Teen’s Guide to Living with a Parent Who Has a Mental Illness

By: Michelle D. Sherman, PhD and DeAnne M. Sherman

This book offers teens essential information regarding mental illness, encourages open communication between teens and parents, offers tips on coping strategies and other words of comfort and support.