The Crooked House

The Challenges of Adult Children with a Mentally Ill Parent





Chronic mental illness including bi-polar disorder, clinical depression, schizophrenia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects one in four families in the United States according to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). 50% of people with mental illness have children. Children’s lives are shaped by their parents. They often have no other frame-of-reference.

Everyone’s experience is unique. Some parents were unable to provide any sort of nurturance. Other parents were loving and responsible despite the fact that they were coping with a major disease while attempting to manage a household, earn an income and raise children. For children, however, the situation was usually unpredictable and confusing…

“Simply put – living day in and day out with a person who has psychiatric symptoms is not easy for anyone. However adults can chose to take a break more easily than children. Adults know to call for help, reach out for resources, or can even drive to just seek help. Children have to find their escape in other ways, usually internally.” (Maggie Jarry)

As a child, you may not have known that you were the son or daughter of someone with a mental illness. Family members or other people may not have talked about the issue. Some may not even have recognized that your parent was ill. You may have heard terms like emotional problem or issue, nervous breakdown, depressed, anxious, fearful, tearful, stressed out, unable to cope, insane -- without knowing what was being talking about.

Sometimes even siblings disagree about the degree of illness that a parent exhibited. You may ask a brother or sister, "Was Dad really as crazy as I think he was?" Often siblings avoid talking on this subject because it’s painful and divisive.

You may have been the unrecognized caretaker of the family. You may have had to grow up fast with responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, shopping, caring for younger brothers and sisters, caring for your ill parent. You may have had very little time to enjoy being a child.

Also, as opposed to the help available to families experiencing a major illness like cancer or multiple sclerosis, assistance from other family members or public agencies is often not available for families with mental illness. So adult children of mentally ill parents felt isolated, even ostracized. Hopefully, this is changing and more resources are available for “young carers” – a term that has been created for children who are, at least, partially responsible for the care of their parent with mental illness.

In the past year, a number of people contributed their stories to The Crooked House Forum. You can read these stories HERE. Everyone’s experience is unique. If you are interested in sharing some of your own, please use the space at the BLOG “Our Forum” or thecrookedhouse facebook page or the Children of Parents ith Mental Illness Facebook page which is extremely active with contributions from people from around the world.

 “Ours was a crooked house always in danger of collapsing completely because it had no foundation or form, only CHAOS. Our house teetered on the brink of 'falling over' every day and every night because it was all askew – it was a crooked house.” DC


In terms of my mom, I think one thing that I would like people to really understand about my mother is that she worked. She had a full time job, she raised four kids. She had this terrible disability that-- it was really an illness--people don’t understand it’s an illness. But every day, even if she was hallucinating like mad, my mom managed to get up and somehow to pack us off to school, whichever combination was around, and go to work, sometimes on the south side, sometimes pretty far away. And then she’d come back, and I would try and pick up the slack in terms of parenting in the evening. Because by then she just really couldn’t.” (Lauren)

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