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Talking to COPMI

Here are some suggested guidelines when approaching the topic of parental mental illness with COPMI (Children of Parents with a Mental Illness) and their parents.

Here are some suggested guidelines when approaching the topic of parental mental illness with COPMI (Children of Parents with a Mental Illness) and their parents.

Talking to COPMI


  • Engage the child’s humour & way of thinking
  • Allow them to divert from the topic if they need to but return to it when they’re ready
  • Ask them if they want you to explain/give an opinion/suggest ideas, before you do
  • Offer the child alternatives during the discussion if appropriate, rather than open questions
  • Use straightforward language
  • Allow time for questions
  • LISTEN carefully


  • Lecture
  • Be afraid of what you don’t know – “We could find someone who might know the answer to that one”
  • Get caught up in the diagnosis – best to think about a set of behaviours
  • Be afraid to be the one to coordinate the relevant professionals & pull things together – we work in silos far too often
  • Assume that someone else is dealing with this

Talking to Parents with a Mental Illness

  • Consider your own fears, prejudices and judgements before you begin
  • Assume the encounter will be productive
  • Accentuate the positive aspects of the situation
  • Remain curious, listen and acknowledge their views and experience; you don’t have to agree
  • Recognise and appreciate the parents’ expertise
  • Be open and transparent
  • Offer another meeting, even if the first one hasn’t gone well
  • Think beyond the label of ‘mental illness’
  • Try to build a relationship before problems arise
  • Consider the parents’ culture and any language difficulties; put interventions in place to help aid effective communication, such as a translator if appropriate

Cultural Considerations

Some cultures discourage men from exhibiting physical or emotional vulnerability. Mental illness can be viewed as:

  • A sign of weakness
  • A western concept
  • Something caused by supernatural means
  • A result of bad deeds
  • A result of not ‘keeping up’ with the faith
  • A form of punishment

Western mental health interventions are not always valued or trusted. Some people have somatic explanations for their mental illness

It is important for us to take into account these possible factors as the consequences: for those suffering from a mental illness who are battling these, can be feelings of shame, embarrassment, isolation and a fear of discrimination and rejection.

Your thoughts

Is there anything you would add to these lists? If so, what would they be and why?

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How To Support Young People Living with Parental Mental Illness

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