Stigma of Being a Parent with Mental Illness

February 18, 2015 Andrea Paquette

Stigma against parents with mental illnesses is unfair. Parents with mental illness are often deemed inadequate but they deserve more than mental health stigma.

Mental health stigma affects parents with mental illness because society labels and judges them negatively. Parents with mental illnesses are often told that they are inadequate caregivers, simply because they have mental health challenges. They are accused of not being able to properly care for their children, especially on their own, and at times they are left battling for their right to be a parent. But parents with mental illnesses deserve more than mental health stigma.

Stigma Toward My Parent with a Mental Illness

I do not have any children and I will never know the agony of having them taken away from me because I have a mental illness. However, I grew up with a mother who has bipolar disorder, and had been diagnosed subsequent to having my sister at the tender age of 16 years old and the then me four years later. When my mother was diagnosed at the age of 23 years old, mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, was deeply misunderstood. My mother remained stable for long periods of time, ranging from two to five years, but, unfortunately, she fell sick time and time again.

As a young child, I possessed a very vague understanding of my mother’s illness because I was simply told that she was just sick, and at times my family did not provide any explanation when she was hospitalized. There were very few traumatic memories from my childhood, my mother never directly hurt me in any way and she always provided the most gentle and loving care.

Sadly, my parents divorced when I was eight years old, and I did not understand my mother’s illness at the time; but by this age, I was somehow convinced that it was a "bad" illness, which led me to believe that she was an inadequate mother. Even at this young age, I knew what this word meant because I had heard it so often amongst family members. As custody battles ensued, her mental illness was consistently used against my mother, and the judge naturally assumed that because my mom had a mental illness, she was simply not a fit parent.

The Truth About Parents with a Mental Illness and Stigma

  • Parents with a mental illness are enough. I understand that there are some instances where a parent may have a very severe mental health condition, but in most situations, there ought to be appropriate accommodation to ensure that the parent’s role is fulfilling and they are pivotal in their child’s life.
  • Parents with mental illnesses experience mental health stigma. They are often deemed inadequate but mentally ill parents deserve more than mental health stigma.Parents with a mental illness may, at times, become hospitalized and will need time to recover from a mental illness episode. This is when family and friends ought to offer their much-needed support and also consider the question, "Would a person with a physical illness be denied their children due to their recovery needs?"
  • Children are resilient and fare much better when told that their parents’ mental illness is not their fault, having the situation explained in plain terms. I have known many children as young as eight years old who have been able to grasp the concept of mental illness but also embrace feelings of recovery and hope. Many children will often want to play a meaningful role in helping their beloved mom or dad get better.

We all deserve respect and acceptance, and parents with a mental illness also deserve this from their children. It is up to us as adults to set an example and demonstrate compassion and understanding, so our children do not grow up stigmatizing their parents who live with mental health challenges, but instead, grow up loving them.

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APA Reference
Paquette, A. (2015, February 18). Stigma of Being a Parent with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Andrea Paquette

February, 21 2015 at 12:12 pm

Nice article.

Lauren Sul
February, 23 2015 at 3:45 pm

My husband and I are both bipolar and have had to deal with the stigma of it as parents time and time again. We've had our son taken from us when he was 2 years old and put into the care of my husband's mother for 6 months, mostly because we had/ have bi-polar disorder and because there were large stains on our apartment's carpet( said stains were there when we moved in). I kid you not, those were the two main items on our cps paperwork! We have had cps called on us by people we pissed off that, even though nothing was found to verify the complaints made and our son was found to be happy and healthy, lasted for months afterwards. You do not need to be "normal", to be good or even great parents. Our son is now 8 and is a very happy, healthy, intelligent, and well rounded boy, even with his own diagnosis of bipolar disorder and extreme ADHD. he also loves us very much. No, we are not perfect parents, but, like any parents raising their first child, we do our best and learn as we go. Mentally ill parents can be great parents, just like so called "normal" parents can be awful parents. Stop the stigma please.

February, 24 2015 at 6:49 pm

Great read. Thank you for posting this. Having a mental illness has cost my children and me a lot -- for some years I had zero ability to parent on my own and recently am doing better with shared custody on weekends. I'm fortunate to have that ability and work hard to recover more -- but the question I have all the time is why is my ability to parent diminished and not supported because I have a mental illness? If I had what others considered a physical disability (mental illness is a brain disease and physical) would there be more parenting support, accomodations and options?

Karah Russell
February, 25 2015 at 2:10 am

See. I have the opposite issue. I am the one that judges myself. I am the one who willingly gave up custody of my daughter to my parents. I look at myself as the bad person and feel inadequate because of my mental health. I despise it when people tell me that I am a great parent. It literally makes me want to vomit and punch something when people compliment me on my parenting and how awesome of a mother I am. I don't know why i feel this way, but it is a huge part of the reason ad to why I did eventually give my parents custody and moved out of their house.

February, 28 2015 at 8:56 pm

People should also hear from those kids that were raised their entire childhoods by mentally ill parents. There needs to be a view of the pros and cons I think.

March, 9 2015 at 1:18 am

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