About mental illness

Mental illnesses are psychological and emotional disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour.

They can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, income and health status – including people who have or want to have children.  

Mental health conditions include antenatal and postnatal depression, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Call PlunketLine any time, day or night, on 0800 933 922, or call or text 1737 any time to speak with a trained counsellor. 

For some people, a mental illness can be a short-term experience, and for others who have conditions like chronic anxiety or depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, it may be a something that needs lifelong treatment.   

Parenting can pose particular challenges for people living with a mental illness, but the fact you have mental illness doesn’t necessarily cause problems for your child and family. 

It’s possible to recover from a mental illness, to take medication to control your illness, and to live a happy, healthy life. 

If you’ve been experiencing negative or frightening feelings and thoughts for more than a couple of weeks and these feelings are getting in the way of your daily life, it’s a very good idea to seek some help. You could start by talking with your GP. 

How mental illness can affect parenting

Sometimes, managing yourself can seem almost impossible – just getting out of bed can feel so hard. Keeping yourself well, coupled with the demands of parenting, can be difficult.  

You may need support to: 

  • stick to any routine 
  • get through chores 
  • get through daily activities like cooking meals 
  • set limits for children’s behaviour and stick to them. 

If you work, you may find the demands of the job challenging, and balancing it with family life very difficult.  

You may also find it hard to support or comfort your child when they need it, or to tune into their emotional needs. 

You don’t have to do this alone. There’s lots of help out there – if you’re concerned, seek professional help, and ask your friends, family and the community for support.  

Call or text 1737 any time to speak with a trained counsellor. 

Ways to manage parenting with a mental illness

  • Looking after yourself is really important. Doing things like regular exercise (even a gentle walk), doing things you enjoy, eating well, and trying to rest when you can may help. It’s also a good idea to talk to your friends and whānau how you’re feeling.   
  • As much as you can, help your child feel secure and loved. It could just be a cuddle after school, a note under their pillow, or some time together doing something you both enjoy. 
  • Let people help when they offer. If you’re unwell, let them know you need support – it could be simple things like cooking a meal for your family. 
  • If your child is old enough, it might be good to talk to them about your illness. Do this when you’re well, or ask a member of your whānau to help you explain it to them. It might help them to understand when you’re not well, to know it’s not their fault, and to cope a bit better.   

If you think you’re going to hurt yourself or your child, call 111. You can also go to your nearest emergency department, or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for your local DHB Mental Health Crisis Team (CATT team).  

Getting help for mental illness

You’re not alone – lots of people live with mental illness and there are a lot of places you can go for help. 

The best place to start is your local GP. They can refer you to a range of specialist support services like psychologists, psychiatrists, or community health services. Your Plunket nurse can also help you find the support you need. 

Parents with mental illness (PDF)

Mental Health Foundation

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The Mental Health Foundation works towards creating a society free from discrimination, where all people enjoy positive mental health & wellbeing.