Roughly 482 million adults in the United States will exhibit symptoms of a mental health condition. It can be difficult to adjust when any person in your life receives this kind of diagnosis. But how do you handle it happening to a parent? How can you safely process your own thoughts and emotions?

Need validation that your parent is really having a mental health struggle?

Mental health conditions don’t discriminate. Regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, nationality, economic standing or any other defining group. Whatever excuses your parent gives, they are just as likely to have a mental health condition as anyone else. Remember that your experiences, and how your parents are making you feel is valid. What you are going through is real, and no parent or family member should be trying to take that away from you. 

List of common mental health conditions your parent may have

  • Depression (many different forms)
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • PTSD
  • OCD
  • Phobias
  • Hoarding

How a parent’s mental health condition can impact your life as their kid

The ways that a parents mental condition can impact their family as a whole varies depending on the kind of condition and its severity. This can materialize in instability, feeling like you’re walking on eggshells, begging for basic needs that were met before and an overall disconnect from parental units. 

In my experience, it felt as if my mothers condition overshadowed the mental health of my brother and I. We needed just as much help, but were almost made to feel responsible to make my mother improve. You deserve just as much support as the person causing this fraction, and you shouldn’t feel afraid to ask for it. 

 As a kid growing up with a mother diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my home life was often unstable. Not knowing which state my mother would be in everyday made it difficult to navigate our interactions together. She exhibited many abusive behaviors, and it greatly altered our relationship.

Any mental condition has levels, and it can change over time. How a family adapts to these changes depends on the level of symptoms, their frequency and how a parent’s role shifts. Genetics influence some mental health conditions as well. 

Having a parent with a mental health condition puts children at risk for social, emotional and behavioral challenges later in life. This is not to say that one cannot overcome these challenges, in fact having experience with mental health conditions might be someone’s greatest defense. 

Consequences of mental health conditions, that can make your life especially difficult

Substance Abuse Disorder

Substance abuse is considered its own mental health condition, but can also result from other mental health conditions. Substance use can vary from mild to severe. The substance in question can range from illegal substances to everyday drugs and chemicals.

While the causes of your parent’s substance abuse may be treated, the mental side of the equation is a more complicated matter. It may not be easy for your parent to stop using, and if they do, it may not be permanent.

You may become a victim of the emotional, financial, legal effects of your parents’ substance use. Substance abuse can add all kinds of danger and uncertainty to your home life. And that can be a huge mental burden on you, the kid.

Mental or physical abuse

Abuse and mental health conditions can at times go hand in hand. Common conditions like narcissism centralize around one’s treatment of others. Mental abuse can materialize in controlling behavior, insults, guilt tripping and any kind of mental manipulation or intentional harm. 

Physical abuse is the action of causing physical harm to another. Both forms of abuse are equally as damaging, just in different ways. An abuser can also practice both forms at once, so often they appear together. No one should endure any of these behaviors. 

How to handle abusers

It is important to know that handling these altercations is complicated. At times, avoidance is the best strategy. Being able to read situations, and know when it is best to avoid conflict is key to surviving in a tumultuous household. Being able to separate a parent’s condition from who they are, is something that helped me get by for many years. 

What happens when your parent with mental health struggles refuses help?

Most mental illnesses emerge by one’s early twenties. Some are a result of trauma or chemical imbalance, while others can be genetic. Over 50% of diagnosed adults in the United States don’t seek treatment as of a 2023 report from the MHA. I personally know how frustrating it can be to see someone struggling and they don’t take the resources that their doctor or their family gives them. 

It is easy for you to feel guilt or responsibility for your parents struggle, but I assure you it is not. Something my therapist told me a long time ago was that mental health struggles may explain one’s actions, but it does not excuse them. Your parents are responsible for their own actions, and it is their decision whether they want help or not.


A very common emotion, likely joined by frustration. Your parents’ situation may be difficult, and you may feel this strong sense of anger towards them and the whole picture itself. Remember that this is their journey to take, and that anger can only inhibit progress and hurt yourself in the process. Keeping a level mind will help with processing these changes. 


Sadness is also an entirely responsible emotion to feel during this time. You might mourn the loss of how life used to be, or the connection you once had with your parent. Allowing this emotion to flow, and not bottling it up, is how you can ensure nothing becomes pent up over time. Know that what you are feeling is normal and you shouldn’t be ashamed if you feel like you need some help processing everything.


This was a common occurrence in my home after my moms diagnosis, and it may be for you as well. Disagreements and conflict are sometimes unavoidable, but I must admit I allowed my emotions to only worsen the situation. This is not to say you shouldn’t stand up for yourself, but I took it as an opportunity to get back at my mother, which was very unhealthy. When finding yourself in a conflict it is best to avoid raising one’s voice or escalating things. If necessary, calmly make your point. If your parent does not reciprocate, it is ok to remove yourself as best as you can. 

How am I supposed to handle my parents’ mental health condition?

Something I wish someone had told me is that there is no right or wrong answer. What I can share are coping strategies and resources for you to utilize if or when you need help. Something that always helped me was having positive mental escapes. I would find hobbies that I could work on independently that helped distract me from the world I was currently living in. 

Hobbies to help decrease stress

  • Reading
  • Yoga
  • Sewing/crochet
  • Running
  • Art
  • Writing

Having a place to retreat to, that doubles as an emotional release is very important. It helps to ground yourself during what can feel like very uncertain times.

How to navigate difficult conversations

It is never easy to know when to stand up for yourself, and it can be hard to ensure your point is made without inciting negativity. However, it is important your voice is heard, as safely as it can be. It will help you mentally to know that you are voicing your concerns, whether they take them in is up to your parents. Just know you did all you can by coming forward with them.

Consider time and place

Take stock of your parents mental state today, do they seem open to conversation? Is there a lot going on? Has there been stressors already today? If it seems like this conversation will add to the plate, then it might not be the best time to have it. Know that this is a delicate balance, and it is ok to wait for a more optimal time. 

Form a plan

It may sound cheesy, but prepping your talking points beforehand will help you feel organized and less nervous. Practice in the mirror, and ensure you hit your main talking points. Avoid using argumentative language or placing blame. Using “I” statements help to convey how you feel and how you are processing things. It removes the inflammatory language that can make someone defensive. Propose solutions and suggestions on how things can improve, it will make it seem like you are wanting to also help the relationship.

Be prepared for different outcomes

In a perfect world, other people would hear and implement everything we say. However, we have to face a reality where that might not happen. Being prepared for the worst case scenario helps you keep a cool head and not react to possible remarks or rejections from your parents.

 I am not saying you should go into these discussions believing no good will come from them. It is vital that you express your feelings and attempt to convey things to your parents. It helps you to know you have done all you can, and that your parents get a chance to see your perspective.

How to move past the possibility of things not getting better

Unfortunately, most mental health conditions are a lifelong battle, requiring constant maintenance. It is natural to hope that a loved one gets better, and they absolutely may with the necessary help and effort. However, there is no definitive cure, and without the proper self investment you may be facing a different reality. It is ok to have to shift one’s perspective around their relationship with their parents, and to make adjustments accordingly. 

Coming to terms with it

This took me a very long time to do, and it is something I still struggle with at times all these years later. But I must say, it was the best thing for me. I am not saying forgiveness is required, but accepting what has happened helped me to heal. Knowing that the past cannot be changed, ensures that it is not a driver for the future. 

Learning to look forward to better things

At the end of the day, we all have our own path in life. We wish to help our parents, but ultimately your life cannot be on pause forever to do so. Find pieces of motivation, things to look forward to. For me it was going to college. Something that allows you to feel positive about the future will allow you to begin moving forward. 

Be aware of your own state

One of the greatest fears I have is being exactly like my mother, and that can be a common fear for children raised by parents who struggle with mental conditions. However, that fear has also allowed me to become hyper aware of my own mental state. Thus, I have had much easier times navigating relationships both romantically and otherwise. I am also self reflective which helps with solving conflict. Be aware of how your own emotions are influencing you and your decisions. Having a level mind often gives new perspectives. 

At the end of the day

Your mental health and stability is just as important, if not more so, than anything else happening in your life. Taking time for yourself, and surrounding yourself with things that allow you to feel loved and supported is all anyone can ask of you. It is your life at the end of the day, and how you live it is up to you.

 Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it, it doesn’t make people perceive you any different. Do not let anyone convince you that your feelings and experience were not valid, it happened to you and it was real. 

Build a future and open doors for yourself, allow yourself to believe in tomorrow. It may take separating yourself from your parents or going no contact in order for things to improve with the relationship, and that is completely ok. This can be done gradually over time until you are able to support yourself fully.

Their mental health journey does not have to dictate your own. As sappy as this sounds, it does truly get better. Take it from someone who has been through it, and is now on the other side.