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Coping with Mental Health Issues During Parenthood

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Having a mental health disorder can be a difficult and isolating experience, but when you are also a parent, the challenge of managing your mental health can be even more daunting. Parenting and mental illness can be a delicate balancing act, as parents must care for their children while managing their own mental health needs. In this article, we will discuss the unique challenges of coping with a mental health disorder while also being a parent and share helpful strategies for navigating this difficult situation.

Mental Health

How Parental Mental Illness Impacts Children

Like many diseases, mental health disorders tend to run in the family, passing down to the child from the parent. This risk is more likely if there are two mentally ill parents.

A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry followed the children of depressed parents to see how well they performed in adulthood over 20 years. Compared to children whose parents weren’t depressed, kids involved in the study were three times more at risk for substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Of course, you should know just because one parent has a mental health condition doesn’t automatically mean it will affect their children. Instead, it’s about how the condition impacts the parent’s behavior. Many people with depression, anxiety, and other disorders go on to live happy and successful lives with treatment.

However, dealing with depression can inadvertently create issues in parenting. For example, you may not be as expressive with your emotions, which could impact bonding with your child. In addition, these situations are usually stressful for both the parent and child, leading to difficulties with trust.

It helps to be upfront and communicate with your children about mental health, but choose your words carefully. For example, although they may not fully describe what you experience, the terms “sad” and “scared” are easier to hear and more digestible than “depressed” and “anxiety.”

Overcoming Mental Health Issues During Parenthood

Juggling the stress of a mental illness and parenting is challenging, with no one-size-fits-all solution. However, that means there are several angles to approach parental mental illness.

Have a Support Network in Place

  • Identify one or two people you can ask for support.
  • Let people know as soon as possible if you’re struggling to cope and need support.
  • Ask for help with practical tasks, such as cooking meals and transport.
  • Ask the nursery or school to monitor your children for behavior changes.
  • See if your employer offers any support programs that could alleviate stress.

Stay Organized

  • Keep routines like bedtime and mealtimes to regular times.
  • Plan in the evening for busy mornings by preparing bags and lunches ahead of time.
  • Make advance plans to delegate responsibilities when you feel unwell.
  • Write down family routines for consistency.
  • Have a designated quiet area for homework.

Seek Help as Needed

  • Ask a trusted friend to help research or accompany you to a new support service.
  • Write down a list of questions to ask the support service.

Reaching out for help can feel daunting and create fears about your ability to care for your children. But remember that support services have supported many other parents in similar situations, and their experienced staff can help advise you.

Parenthood and Mental Illness: Will My Child Have It?

Mental illness isn’t contagious, but research indicates a genetic link in some conditions. For example, doctors have long known that bipolar disorder runs in families. Others may pass on hereditary traits that make someone more likely to develop a disorder without passing on that specific condition.

Having a mental health condition does not guarantee your child will have one, too. However, because of your lived experience, you may be more adaptable to the unique challenges of parenthood and mental illness.

Risk Factors

Children of parents with a mental illness are at greater risk for developing behavioral, emotional, or social problems. Parents struggling with a mental health disorder can inadvertently create an unpredictable and inconsistent family environment, which raises the child’s risk. Other factors that can have an impact on any child include:

  • Poverty
  • Poor communication between parent and child
  • Openly aggressive behavior by parents
  • Marital or occupational difficulties
  • Single-parent families

Children at the most significant risk have their own difficulties, at least one mentally ill parent, and a chronically stressful family environment. Fortunately, preventative interventions can alleviate many of these aspects, such as through communication training.

The Takeaway

It’s no secret that parenting with a mental health condition can leave you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. But it’s important to realize that caring for kids often starts with caring for yourself. You can take many steps to tackle your mental health and improve your parenting skills.

Mind Body Optimization provides a range of services to help you take care of your mental health. From individual counseling and group therapy to online resources and support groups, we offer various options to help you maintain your mental well-being while being a parent.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.