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A whole family approach to parental mental illness

Dympna Cunnane

Our Time launches an online training course to support professionals in understanding how parental mental illness impacts children’s development, learning skills and strategies to help these young people.

  • Lived experience

The charity Our Time was established in 2012 to offer support to families where a parent has a mental illness. The impacts for children of parents with a mental illness can be far reaching. It can negatively impact all aspects of a child’s development, and lead to severe adult health outcomes. Having a parent with mental health difficulties makes it three times more likely a child will go on to develop mental health problems themselves. Despite the obvious vulnerability of this group, there is very little in place to support them. This large (over 4 million) yet hidden group of children and young people often fall between the cracks.

Identifying these young people

Over the last 10 years, we have pioneered effective, internationally-recognised, evidence-based interventions, in close consultation with families and children.

One of the key ways we can support these children is by training professionals to recognise and support their needs, wherever they present. We have heard from young people too many times that their needs and wishes have been ignored. Meanwhile, well-meaning professionals often lack the confidence to talk about parental mental illness with children, and worry that by doing so they might make the situation worse.

“They never talk to me or ask me for my opinion – even though I’m the one who has to support mum all of the rest of the time. I just want them to listen to me and to tell me who I can talk to if I am worried about her.”

Support for professionals

To tackle this, we are launching an online professional development training course, ‘How To Support Young People Living with Parental Mental Illness’ will be available on FutureLearn from February 2023, in collaboration with UCL, rated the top university in the UK for research strength in the most recent Research Excellence Framework. UCL’s prestigious division of Psychiatry is renowned for its world class researchers and commitment to tackling real-life mental health issues.

Our comprehensive four week course will help professionals discover how parental mental illness impacts children’s development, whilst learning skills and strategies to help these young people.

So, how does our course help?

We know how important it is to highlight the challenges faced by children affected by parental mental illness. This course addresses how to identify these children, helping learners understand the impact it has on their lives. You will better understand how these young people think, exploring approaches to support children to build their own coping strategies and resilience.

We see all too often that these young people face stigma and isolation. We unpick the role that unconscious bias plays in attitudes towards mental illness, and help you gain a deeper understanding of the barriers which may prevent children of a parent with a mental illness seeking the support that they need.

Hearing directly from young people with lived experience, alongside research, ensures our learners develop conceptual understanding, as well as equipping them with practical tools that they can apply in their own setting.

A holistic approach

Our work goes far beyond support for professionals. We provide a nationwide programme of ‘KidsTime Workshops’, a whole family approach to supporting children of parents with a mental illness and their families. We also work in schools, providing vital training for staff and whole school support systems for young people affected by this issue.

We are changing perspectives around this issue, working with families, professionals, local authorities, the NHS, research bodies and many other charities to tackle the impact of parental mental illness and combat the stigma.

Our Time is leading the movement towards a positive future for young people affected by parental mental illness, giving them a space to be heard and supported.


Dympna is the CEO of Our Time. She has a BA (University College Dublin) in Psychology and Philosophy, an MA in Psychology (Tavistock Institute London) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Systems Thinking, as well as professional training in psychoanalysis (Jungian). She has worked as an organisation development specialist in large organisations, and has over twenty years’ experience working as a consultant to top level executives in international public and private sector companies. Dympna is interested in mental wellbeing in its broadest sense, having trained and worked in therapeutic settings as well as applying her knowledge to the world of work and workplaces. She believes that the mind is our most powerful resource, and as such, determines much of our life experience.