Caring for Mentally Ill Parents: A Comprehensive Guide

How To Care For Them
Common Types of Mental Illness
Managing Caregiver Stress
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- Educate yourself about your parent's mental illness
- Communicate openly
- Practice empathy and active listening
- Establish a support network
- Involve your parent in decision-making
- Seek professional help
- Coordinate with healthcare providers
- Take care of yourself

- Anxiety disorders
- Depression
- Substance abuse disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Schizophrenia
- Post-traumatic stress disorder

- Prioritize your own physical and emotional well-being
- Accept that you may not be able to meet all your parent's needs
- Connect with friends, family, or groups who understand your situation
- Consider talking to a mental health professional.

Dealing with a parent with a mental illness can be emotionally challenging and complex. With approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiencing mental health issues each year and about 10% of parents having a severe mental illness that substantially interferes with their daily activities [1], affects many families nationwide.

This easy-to-understand guide will discuss the different mental health problems and how to deal with a mentally ill parent; how having a parent with serious mental illness can impact kids, and how to help mentally ill parents so that families can get the support they need.

An elderly woman with a serious mental illness

Understanding Mental Illness:

It's essential to educate yourself about your elderly parent's mental illness better to understand their behaviors, emotions, and needs. This knowledge will help you empathize with their struggles as they battle mental illness and provide appropriate support. Learn about the symptoms, treatment options, and healthy coping skills associated with some serious mental illness your parent is experiencing.

Identifying Early Warning Signs and Triggers

Familiarize yourself with the early warning signs and triggers associated with your elderly parent's specific mental disorder, such as major depressive disorder. By recognizing these signs, you can intervene and provide appropriate support before their serious mental illness worsens.

Common early warning signs may include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, mood, or energy levels. Triggers can vary depending on the individual and may include stress, substance use, other behavior, or specific situations.

The Prevalence of Mental Illness in Parents

Mental illnesses are a common issue affecting millions worldwide, and elderly parents are no exception. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that about 1 out of every 5 adults in the United States has some mental health issues each year. About 1 in 10 parents (10%) have a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with their daily activities.

Common Types of Mental Illness in Parents infographic

Common Types of Mental Illness in Parents

The most common mental illnesses in parents are anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse disorders. Other mental illnesses that can affect parents include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [2].

An elderly man with major depressive disorder

Caring for Older Parents with Mental Illness

Caring for an aging parent with a mental illness presents unique challenges. These challenges include managing complex medical conditions, navigating the healthcare system, and dealing with emotional and financial burdens. Here are some tips for adult children caring for older mentally ill parents:

  1. Educate yourself about your parent's mental illness: Understanding your parent's specific condition will help you provide better care and support. It's essential to research their condition, treatment options, and potential complications to ensure that you are well-informed.
  2. Communicate openly: Honest and open communication is key when caring for a mentally ill parent. Encourage your parent to talk about their feelings, concerns, and any changes in their condition. Additionally, be open about your own feelings and the challenges you face as a caregiver.
  3. Empathy and Active Listening: When communicating with your mentally ill parent, practice empathy and active listening. Validate their feelings and experiences, and avoid dismissing or minimizing their emotions. You can foster a supportive and trusting relationship by demonstrating understanding and compassion.
  4. Establish a support network: A strong support network is crucial for you and your parents. Reach out to other family members, friends, or support groups for people in similar situations. You can manage the caregiving process more successfully by sharing your experiences and picking up tips from others.
  5. Involve your parent in decision-making: Include them in choices regarding their care and treatment whenever you can. This can help them feel more in control, leading to better outcomes.
  6. Seek professional help: If your parent's condition worsens or becomes unmanageable, don't hesitate to seek professional help. This could include a psychiatrist, therapist, or geriatric care manager.
  7. Coordinating with Healthcare Providers: Maintain open communication with your parent's healthcare providers to ensure you are well informed about their treatment plan and progress. Regularly share updates on their symptoms, medication response, and any changes in their condition. You can make sure that your parent receives the finest treatment possible by working together with healthcare professionals.
  8. Take care of yourself: Caring for an aging parent with a mental illness can be incredibly stressful. Never forget to put your health first and get the help you need without hesitation. This might involve finding respite care, attending a support group, or seeking therapy.
An elderly woman with a nurse

Tips for coping with caregiver stress

Managing Caregiver Stress:

Caring for a mentally ill parent can be emotionally and physically demanding, leading to caregiver stress. Here are some tips to help you:

The Impact of Mentally Ill Parents on Children

Children of parents with mental illness are at an increased risk for a number of problems, including[3]:

An elderly woman with the family caregiver

Supporting Children of Mentally Ill Parents

There are a number of things that can be done to help children of parents with serious mental illnesses: [4]

  1. Providing emotional support to the child
  2. Helping the child to understand their parent's mental illness
  3. Getting the child involved in therapy or support groups
  4. Ensuring that the child has access to quality education and healthcare
  5. Creating a stable and supportive home environment

Family Therapy and Programs

Participating in family therapy or specialized programs to seek treatment for serious mental illnesses can provide families with the tools and strategies they need to cope with the situation. These services can help improve communication, resolve conflicts, and address mental health concerns within the family. Speak to your healthcare provider or mental health professional about available family therapy options or programs in your area.

An aging parent with mental health issues

Self-Care for Children of Mentally Ill Parents:

Children of mentally ill parents must practice self-care and prioritize their well-being. Consider the following self-care strategies:

Set boundaries:

Establish healthy boundaries to protect your emotional and mental health, and communicate them clearly to your parent.

Engage in hobbies and interests:

Pursue activities that bring you joy and relaxation, as they can help alleviate stress and provide a sense of normalcy.

Maintain a support network:

Build relationships with friends, family members, and mentors who can offer emotional and practical support.

Seek therapy or counseling:

Never forget to put your health first and get the help you need for your mental health.

An example of aging parents

Supporting Your Parent's Treatment

Encourage your parent to seek professional help and adhere to their treatment plan, which may include therapy, medication, or support groups. Offer assistance scheduling appointments, attending therapy sessions, or researching available resources. Remember to respect their autonomy and make decisions together whenever possible.

Resources for Families Affected by Parental Mental Illnesses

Several organizations and resources are available to help families affected by parental mental illness, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). These organizations offer educational materials, support groups, and mental health resources to help families cope and find the support they need.

Legal and Financial Considerations for Families with a Mentally Ill Parent

In addition to taking care of the emotional and physical challenges that come with caring for mentally ill parents, there are often legal and financial considerations that families must navigate. Here are some key areas to be aware of:

Guardianship and Conservatorship:

If a parent with mental health problems can't make choices for themselves, a family member might need to become their guardian. This is a legal process that allows the guardian to make important decisions for the parent, like handling money, making healthcare choices, and figuring out where they should live.

Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney lets someone you choose make health-related choices for your mentally ill parent when they can't make those decisions themselves. This can be essential for ensuring that the parent receives appropriate care and treatment.

Estate Planning

Families need to work with an experienced attorney to create an estate plan that addresses the needs of the mentally ill parent and the family members who will be responsible for their care. Keep in mind that your health should come first and that you should get the help you need for your mental health.

Emergency Planning

Create an emergency plan in case your parent experiences a mental health crisis. This plan should include a list of emergency contacts, such as healthcare providers, family members, and friends who can provide support. Ensure you are familiar with local crisis intervention services and know when and how to access them. Having a plan can help you respond quickly and effectively in times of crisis.

Public Benefits

Families caring for a mentally ill parent may be eligible for various public benefits, such as Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These programs can provide financial assistance to help cover the costs of medical care, housing, and other necessities.

Support Services

Many communities offer support services for families caring for a mentally ill parent, such as respite care, counseling, and caregiver support groups. These resources can be invaluable in helping families manage the challenges of caregiving and maintain their well-being.

Respite Care

Respite care is a temporary arrangement that allows caregivers to take a break from their caregiving duties. This can be beneficial for both the caregiver and the mentally ill parent. Respite care options can include in-home care, adult day care centers, or short-term stays at residential facilities. To find respite care services in your area, contact local social service agencies or search online directories.

By taking the time to address legal, financial, and support service considerations, families can create a more stable and secure future for their loved ones with mental illness and for themselves.

An elderly woman thinking about her past experiences

Personal Stories: Courage and Resilience in Caring for Mentally Ill Parents

Short Intro: To better understand the challenges and triumphs those caring for mentally ill parents face, we have gathered five inspiring real-life stories. These accounts highlight the courage, resilience, and compassion of individuals who have navigated the complexities of supporting a parent with a serious mental illness while maintaining their well-being. We hope these stories will offer comfort, encouragement, and a sense of solidarity for those facing similar circumstances.

Sarah's journey with her bipolar mother

Sarah shares her experiences growing up with a mother who had bipolar disorder. The challenges they faced, the importance of support networks, and how Sarah learned to cope and care for her mother. Read Sarah's full story here

Mark's struggle caring for his schizophrenic father

Mark opens up about his father's battle with schizophrenia and the emotional and mental toll that it took on their family. He talks about the importance of education, seeking professional help, and the support that eventually helped them through their journey. Read Mark's full story here

Jennifer's experience as a child of a mother with depression:

Jennifer tells the story of growing up with a mother who had severe depression. She shares the impact it had on her childhood, the support she received from her father, and the resilience she developed as a result. Read Jennifer's full story here

Tom's dedication to helping his mom with anxiety

Tom shares his experiences as an adult child caring for his elderly mother who suffers from severe anxiety. He discusses the challenges they faced, the importance of patience and empathy, and the resources he found helpful in their journey. Read Tom's full story here

Lisa's resilience in caring for her mother with borderline personality disorder

Lisa recounts the difficulties she faced growing up with a mother with borderline personality disorder, and how she learned to care for her mother while maintaining her own well-being. She emphasizes the importance of self awareness, of setting boundaries and finding support. Read Lisa's full story here

Who to contact for support?

Here's a list of some organizations and helplines that can offer assistance:

  1. Online therapy with verified psychologists
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
  3. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
  4. American Psychological Association (APA)
  5. Child Mind Institute
  6. Mental Health America (MHA): Helpline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  8. Family Support Groups
  9. Online Communities and Forums:
  10. Caregiving Apps and Tools:Utilizing caregiving apps and tools can help streamline your caregiving tasks and reduce stress. There are a variety of apps and tools designed to help caregivers manage their responsibilities, such as medication reminders, appointment trackers, and symptom journals. Here are a few examples:
    • CareZone: This app allows you to organize health information, set medication reminders, and track symptoms for multiple family members.
    • Lotsa Helping Hands: This tool helps you create a care calendar to coordinate assistance and support from friends and family.
    • eMoods: This mood-tracking app is designed specifically for individuals with bipolar disorder and their caregivers, enabling you to track symptoms and identify patterns.


Parental mental illness can bring chaos and hardship to a whole family dynamic, negatively impacting children’s emotions and well-being. Although it can be difficult to cope with such a situation, it is important to remember that communication and education are helpful tools in helping families navigate this challenge.

Finally, online therapy resources can serve as a great alternative route of support if traditional options aren't available. No matter what option you choose, we all must come together to ensure those affected by mentally ill parents have the resources they need to lead successful lives.


How can I help my child understand their grandparent's mental illness?

Providing age-appropriate information, engaging in open conversations, and involving them in therapy or support groups can help your child understand their grandparent's mental illness.

What resources are available for families affected by mentally ill parents?

Providing age-appropriate information, engaging in open conversations, and involving them in therapy or support groups can help your child understand their grandparent's mental illness.


  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2023). Mental Illness in America: Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from
  2. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2023). Mental Illness Disorders in Adults. Retrieved from
  3. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2023). Impact of Mental Illness on Children and Adolescents. Retrieved from
  4. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2023). Helping Children of Parents with Mental Illness. Retrieved from