Growing Up with a Parent Who Has a Mental Illness

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With one in five adults experiencing mental illness, many children have a high likelihood of growing up with a parent who has a mental illness. Having a parent with mental illness creates unique difficulties for children of all ages, from their young years to adulthood.

Mental illness covers a broad range of conditions, from depression to bipolar disorder to post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, a mental illness diagnosis does not automatically make someone a bad parent. Many strong, brave parents ensure they receive the proper care and treatment to manage their mental illness and provide a great life for their children. However, that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of certain challenges, either.

What is it like growing up with a parent who has a mental illness, and how does it affect children as they grow up?

Parents React to Mental Illness Differently

Not every parent with a mental illness responds the same way. Some proactively seek ongoing mental health treatment and stay on top of their mental healthcare. They see a therapist regularly, take their medication as prescribed, and are fantastic parents as a result, despite their battle with mental illness.

On the other hand, some parents turn to self-medication or neglect to address their mental illness at all. They may use alcohol or drugs to cope with their difficult symptoms, which only worsens their mental illness over time. They might try to pretend nothing is wrong and bottle up their difficulties, while thinking they are doing the right thing, only to eventually explode at the slightest provocation.

Problems typically arise with the second type of parents. Those unwilling to manage their mental illness will cause lasting effects on their children whether they mean to or not.

Effects of Mental Illness On Children

Growing up with a parent who has a mental illness and chooses not to manage it creates difficulties for children. Unfortunately, children are not usually aware their parent has a mental illness until they’re old enough to understand what’s going on. Before that, though, they aren’t sure why their parent behaves the way they do.

Children do not have the coping skills to deal with the inconsistencies of a parent with an untreated mental illness. Their parent may be short-tempered and angry, but the child doesn’t understand why. As they grow up, they may realize that behaving in certain ways elicits certain responses. This effect can create the belief that they’re responsible for their parent or family’s well-being.

Children with a parent who has a mental illness are often left to handle things on their own from a young age. They develop independence early on, which may cause them difficulties asking for or accepting help later in life. They might also seek out relationships that follow a similar dynamic to the one they grew up with, even if they try to avoid them.

If you are the child of a parent who has a mental illness, you may notice some challenging tendencies or behaviors. You may still believe that you need to handle everything on your own, but there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Seeking treatment at a facility like Clearview Treatment Programs can help you identify your problematic behaviors, recognize where they originated, and begin working through them.

Would you like to learn more about the programs available to you? Call us at 866-339-3544 or fill out a contact form to speak with an admissions specialist about what you’re going through and how we can help.



  1. Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States.

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