When Both Parents Have Mental Illness


Having one partner in a relationship with mental health difficulties is a challenge. When both partners struggle it’s a whole new ball game. Add kids in the mix and it can be a wild ride.

I have bipolar disorder and my husband struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. We have three beautiful children under the age of 12. Sometimes life is beautiful and unmanageable all at once.

On the upside, it’s easier to empathize with each another when we’re struggling on different days. One partner needs the support and the other can be there to help and pick up the slack. Dad is stuck on the couch fending off panic attacks while Mom gets the kids dinner and readies them for bed. Alternate and Mom is cordoned off in her room “relaxing” while Dad plays games and keeps the kids occupied.

It’s a delicate dance that usually works out OK.

However, on those days when both of us are struggling, it makes it quite the challenge.

I’ve spent many a mixed mood fending off suicidal thoughts while helping my 6-year-old with math facts. My husband has staved off panic attacks while driving the kids to baseball practice. We both have times when we are strong and times when we are barely getting by.

There’s a solidarity that comes with this dynamic as well. We are a team. No matter what life or our brains throw at us, we know we can handle it together. Even if we are both crawling through our days desperately trying to keep ourselves moving, we know that if we just keep going for the sake of ourselves and our kids, we will make it. The storms pass. The sunlight shines through.

The kids know Mommy and Daddy each have an issue with their brains that causes them to not work right sometimes, and they know that we need “alone time” to feel better. Just like someone battling a cold.

The best lessons we can teach our kids are by example. We hope as they grow they will learn lessons of persistence, strength and teamwork by watching us battle our demons while keeping the household afloat.

To all the parents out there with mental illness who are struggling and striving: keep moving, stay strong, stick together, and have hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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