A person’s mental health can improve when they feel connected and empowered, confident in their identity and their meaning in life, and have hope and optimism about the future.
Give dignity to parents who are experiencing mental health issues in the following ways:
- be respectful, polite and non-judgemental
- be compassionate and show empathy
- use the family's language to describe their mental health
- take the time to listen and to reflect on what the parents are saying
- thank them for sharing their stories
- reflect critically on your own biases and assumptions about mental health
- appreciate a parent’s efforts and capacity to take care of themselves and their children when they are well and when they are unwell
If a parent’s child is in care
If a child is not able to live with their parent whether on a short-term or long-term basis, promote the parent’s safe connection to their child. Talk to the parent about working together to ensure the safety of their child. Acknowledge the grief, sadness, shame and anger they may be feeling. Look for opportunities to give the parent hope and what action can be taken through casework to promote the shared goal of promoting their child’s wellbeing.
If possible, share the parent’s own language about their mental illness with the child’s carer and safety and support network. This can ensure consistent messaging for the child, and the child’s network can support the child to understand their parent’s circumstances, rather than the child trying to figure things out for themselves.
Recognise a parent’s strengths and protective factors
Work with a parent to think about their strengths so they feel empowered and optimistic. When having these conversations with them:
- use the Three Houses and Future House tools
- talk about how they are already taking care of themselves or their children
- think about being a useful ally to the parent
- build on any opportunities
- explore how existing strengths improve the family’s life
Examples of strengths and protective factors might include:
- the parent’s ability and willingness to seek help and work with supports and services
- how the parent manages stress
- what supports are available to the parent and family
- the parent’s ability to identify or meet their child’s needs
- the strength of the relationship between the parent and child
When supporting a parent to identify their strengths, a useful tool can be to use ‘exception questions’.
An example of an exception question is ‘You said you’ve been experiencing depression for years and you’ve had many ‘ups and downs’. I wonder what is happening in your life when your depression is less severe and more manageable.’
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