MORE than one in five Australian children are living with at least one parent with a mental illness, Bureau of Statistics figures show.
An analysis of the data also reveals that three in 1000 children live in a single-parent family with the parent having a severe mental illness, ranging from depression to schizophrenia.
Researcher Daryl Maybery, of Charles Sturt University, said having a parent with mental illness could affect children's social and educational development.
"What happens to an eight, 10, 12-year-old kid when mum's in hospital for a week. If there's nothing organised for those kids they're left to fend on their own," Dr Maybery said.
"Even if (the parent) is at home the oldest child becomes the carer and helps looking after mum."
Dr Maybery, whose research was commissioned by VicHealth, Beyondblue and the Government, said mental health services needed to consider children when caring for adults.
"They are totally forgotten in the whole picture." Services should help parents develop a plan to ensure children were cared for if the parent was unwell, he said.
Nicole Highet, deputy chief executive of Beyondblue, said children often knew something was wrong with a parent but did not realise they had a mental illness. Dr Highet said it was important young people better understood mental illness so they knew the signs when a parent was unwell and what they could do to help. Growing awareness about mental health would also help.
"It's really important we develop a community who [sic] is open to and responsive to mental illness and can recognise and support people."
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800. Link: www.copmi.net.au