When to Seek Mental Health Care for Your Child When You Have Cancer


Coping with someone in the family having cancer is really challenging for many children and young people. Generally, with the right advice and support, you can support your child. But children/young people dealing with a parent’s cancer are at high risk of psychological distress – so sometimes they may need professional help. 

Warning signs 

As a parent, it can be hard to know what’s normal behaviour and what’s a warning sign of a potential mental health issue.  Sadness and worry are normal reactions for a child or young person when a parent has cancer. Particularly for teenagers, feeling down, tense, angry, anxious or disconnected are all normal emotionsBut if these feelings seem overwhelming, persist for a long time and start to get in the way of their daily life, it could be depression or anxiety, and your child may need to talk to a professional. 

Warning signs that your child/young person may need professional help include any new and persistent changes (lasting more than one or two weeks), like: 

  • not enjoying, or not wanting to be involved in, things that they used to enjoy 
  • not wanting to go to school 
  • spending a lot of time alone and withdrawing from friends 
  • changes in hygiene, eating habits, appetite or sleeping patterns 
  • being easily irritated or angry for no reason  
  • trouble concentrating or paying attention (e.g. their school grades dropping or performance at Uni/TAFE/work is not as good as it was) 
  • risky behaviour that they would usually avoid, like taking drugs or drinking too much alcohol 
  • talking about hurting themselves, wanting to die or suicide. 

Trust your instincts. You know your child well, so if you’re concerned about how they’re coping or any changes in behaviour, then it’s worth talking to a professional.  

Where to get help 

There are many health professionals and organisations you can contact for help if you are concerned about your child’s coping or behaviour, including: 

  • Your GP or specialist – may be able to talk to your child, or help you decide whether to consult a psychologist 
  • Nurses – may be the most constant contact you have with the treatment centre and are a source of valuable information and support 
  • Social workers – talk to patients every day about communication issues and have a wealth of knowledge about services 
  • Psychologists and counsellors – can help you with communication and behavioural issues  
  • School counsellors – are trained in child development and can be a great source of support and ideas 
  • Psychiatrists – will see children with more serious issues (with a referral from your GP). 


More advice/support 

> Contact Canteen (1800 ?? or support@canteen.org.au) to talk to one of our counsellors or get recommendations for the right support for your child. 

> If your child insists nothing is wrong and refuses help, try texting or emailing them a link to Canteen’s online community where they can talk to other young people who get what they’re going through or have a confidential and non-judgemental chat with a Canteen counsellor. 

Useful sites/resources

For a full list of Parenting through Cancer resources click here
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