Mental illness is not limited to a certain age, gender or race. It affects every aspect of one's life. As such, mental illnesses in parents typically takes a toll on children and could affect their behaviour. Children of parents with long term mental illnesses often experience emotional, behavioural and psychological problems as a result of their parents' illness They are also likely to develop mental illnesses as some illnesses are genetic.
It is common for children to experience emotions like confusion, fear, anger, shame, guilt, or sometimes even blame themselves for the reality of their parent's mental state. Parenting can be challenging while dealing with mental illnesses and this, in turn, takes a toll on the child emotionally and psychologically.
Possible Effects of a Parent's Mental Illness on a Child
Difficulty with Academics - Children in such a situation may find it hard to concentrate on school activities, and this may be as a result of their constant worry about their parent's mental condition. This leads to a drop in their school grades.
Feeling of Shame and Low Self Esteem - Some children tend to feel ashamed of their parent's condition and have a hard time talking about it or letting anyone know what they are going through.
Withdrawal - Some children tend to withdraw from people, friends and family; they keep to themselves and stay alone. This causes them to have trouble with having an active social life.
Fear - The thought of contracting the diagnosed mental illness of their parent can overwhelm the child and can cause severe emotional problems to them. Fear can also take another turn in the place of Thanatophobia.
Separation - Separation between children and parents with severe mental illnesses may be inevitable if the parents have to be admitted into the hospital or if the parent is not able to care for them.
Drug Use and Abuse - This is a chaining effect from fear where a child may result in using drugs because of the state of their parents. Some children may result in drug use to numb their pain of fear and separation.
They are forced to become caregivers to their parents and younger siblings. They take on responsibilities like financial support, domestic support which ideally at that stage of life, should be the responsibilities of the parents.
Helping the Child Cope with the Effects of Parent's Mental Illness
Educate the child about the parent's mental illness.
Encourage the child or children to talk about how they feel.
Encourage the child to join support groups that have children going through the same issues.
Contact the child's school and give them information about what is going on at home so they can help them adjust at school.
Get a professional (psychologist) to help the child if he or she begins to have extreme behavioural and emotional problems to the extent that it interferes with their daily lives.
The child can move into a family member's house if they have trouble seeing their parent sick till they come to terms with the illness and can relate with their parents comfortably.
Dealing with a parent's mental illness can take a considerable toll on a child. The wellbeing of the child must be also taken into consideration during this stage to help them cope properly and help them go about their daily lives with ease.
Written by Akinloye Folashade, a psychology graduate from the University of Lagos (Unilag) with a passion for mental health and people with special needs .A mental health advocate looking to educate people on mental health illnesses especially in children and adolescents and help stop stigmatisation against those illnesses.