If your parent or caregiver is struggling with a mental illness, it may be difficult for you to deal with physical and mental strain that may be involved. It’s important to know that what you’re feeling is okay and that you’re not alone. In this post, you’ll learn different strategies you can apply to your life to help you cope with your parent’s or caregiver’s mental illness(es). The five items on this list are actions that you can take to help you deal with issues that may arise as a result of mental illness.


Coping is important because you might be taking on extra responsibilities like:

  • Caring for your siblings
  • Making meals
  • Taking care of your parent or caregiver


Children and teenagers may experience difficulty finding the right balance between caring for themselves versus caring for others. This can be very physically overwhelming because they could be doing adult things while, they may be feeling:

  • Guilty
  • Ashamed
  • Embarrassed
  • Depressed
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Sad
  • Fear of inheriting a mental illness


Coping describes the different things people do to manage stress, reduce stress and deal with problems. Since each person and situation is different, it’s important to know that everyone copes differently. You may find that some strategies may work better for you, while others may not be as effective.


1. Accept that your parent or caregiver is suffering from mental illness(es)

  • Acknowledge your feelings because it is okay to feel the way you do and understand that you are not alone
  • Remember that you’re not responsible for fixing the mental illness(es) and that it’s not your fault they have one (or more)
  • Understand that the mental illness(es) affects your life too


2.  Educate yourself

  • Learn about the mental illness(es) so you can better understand what your parent or caregiver is going through
    • Read brochures
    • Read books or search on-line for information sources
    • Ask questions to your parent or caregiver’s support team (such as health care professionals and relatives)
  • Read a self help book so you can practice ways to maintain your own well-beingthree tall bookshelves lined up next to each other with lots of books.


3. Make a crisis plan and a crisis card

Have a plan in place for times where your parent or caregiver may be in crisis. Make sure that your parent or caregiver is involved in the making of this plan. Their preferences should be taken into consideration and respected. Get any other family members involved in the creation of the plan as well. Then you should review the plan with your caregiver or parent’s mental health care professionals.


The plan should have specific steps and roles that each person will have to complete the plan. This could include:

  • Who will go with your caregiver or parent to the hospital
  • How they will get to the hospital
  • Who should make phone calls while at home
  • Who will take care of you and your siblings
  • And whatever else is necessary


Then you should review the plan with your caregiver(s) or mental health care professional(s).

A crisis card should also be created so that you can give to the health care professional who is caring for your caregiver or parent as they are likely to not have worked with your caregiver or parent before.

  • Important phone numbers that will be called during the crisis or emergency
  • Your caregiver or parent’s mental health professional (such as a psychiatrist and/or therapist)
  • The hospital that your parent or caregiver has visited or is currently involved with
  • A list of medications your caregiver or parent is allergic to
  • A list of medications your caregiver or parent is currently using
  • Tips on how to communicate with your caregiver or parent when they are in crisis
  • Foods that comfort your caregiver or parent
  • Things that calm your caregiver or parent down such as music
  • Neutral topics that are interesting to your caregiver or parent


As a last resort, you can get a mental health assessment using your province or territory’s laws that allow for a judge, doctor, police officer, or justice of peace to order an evaluation. However, this can be traumatic for you, your caregiver or parent, and anyone else involved.


4. Make plans for how you’ll cope with challenging behaviours

Sometimes your caregiver or parent might behave in ways that may embarrass, confuse, and/or scare you. You can start by reminding yourself that it’s not personal. The situation may be just as distressing for your caregiver or parent because they might not be able to control it.


Your plan may be to acknowledge how you’re feeling, do several breathing exercises, practice positive self talk, and so on. You may have to experiment with several different plans as some coping methods may or may not work for you given the specific situation.
Click here to read Part Two of Coping with Your Parent’s Mental Illness, which is more focused on things you can do for yourself.

Frontenac Youth Services
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