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Talking to parents and carers about their child's mental health

Parents are likely to have a variety of reactions when talking about their child’s mental health issues for the first time.

Reactions parents may include:

  • denial — especially if they thought that what was happening for their child was just the ups and downs of everyday life
  • relief — if they have been worried about their child for some time, and they feel like they are hopeful that their child can gain some support
  • anger — why is this happening in my family?
  • guilt — if they have the same mental health condition or are worried about the child’s experiences contributing to their mental health issues
  • fear — what does the future hold for my child?
  • minimisation— it’s not that bad, I had to cope with far worse.

Parents are likely to need a lot of guidance to be able to support their child. This may include getting a better understanding of their child’s condition and working with the child and other professionals to work out the best way to offer support.

They may also need to work with a professional themselves to keep healthy enough to be there for their child. Some parents might need additional supports to help them to manage their own trauma history, or to get help for their ongoing mental health issues.

Some young people with mental health issues may have challenging behaviours like aggression, troubles with communication skills, challenges maintaining good hygiene, and engaging in self-harming. It is important to work with parents and the young person to help to understand the meaning of the behaviour, rather than focussing solely on how to change the behaviour.

Practice prompt

Share these videos from Beyond Blue with parents. They show how parents can talk to young people about mental health.

Conversations prompts with parents and carers

Practice considerations Conversation ideas
Talk to parents about what worries they have for their child.

What sorts of things have you noticed that worry you?

When did you first start to notice this?

What are you most worried about for your child?

What do you think is going well for your child?

How do you think you can best support your child at the moment?

What information do you need so you can help your child with their worries?

Encourage parents to seek help.

There are many young people who need help and support with their mental health. The best place to start is often the General Practitioner (GP). How would you feel about going with your child to the doctor?

What do you think would worry your child about getting help? How could you help support them to seek the help they need?

Talk to parents about how their own history of mental health issues could be related to their child’s.

Although genetics is a factor in mental health issues, there are many other factors that also play a part.

What helped you feel better when you were your child’s age?

What have you learned about looking after your own mental health that you could share with your child?

Encourage parents to look after themselves. Looking after a child with a mental health issue can be hard. What things can you do for yourself to make sure you stay well enough to support your child?


Parents – What to say

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