Parental mental health: how parenting can affect your mental health

Parenting is a huge challenge, and it can be even harder if you’re struggling with your mental health.

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If you’re balancing attempts to overcome a mental health condition while parenting, or find that parenting is putting strain on your mental health, it’s important to understand that there’s no shame in admitting you need help and support.

In this piece, we’ll outline the ways you can look after your mental health as a parent, and explore how you might discuss the topic with your children.

How a mental health problem could impact your parenting

Parenting with a mental health problem can bring additional challenges that, in turn, could prevent you from improving your wellbeing. Common symptoms of depression and other mental health issues include low energy levels, meaning you might find it hard to carry out daily parenting tasks or generally care for your children.

In turn, this can lead to feelings of guilt as you think your parenting isn’t up to standard. These feelings can be exacerbated if you experience stigma or judgement from fellow parents or people you know.

What’s important to recognise is that your feelings and emotions are completely valid, and that there is no shame in admitting you need extra help and support as you manage your mental wellbeing.

The phrase “help yourself in order to help others” is well known for a reason; it’s much more difficult to care for your children the way you want to if you don’t also care for yourself. The remainder of this article will offer you advice on how you can look after yourself as a parent and build a healthy relationship with your child on the topic of mental health.

Ways to parent with mental health problems

Have a support network

Creating a network of trusted friends and family members around you can help to make things easier when you’re feeling low.

Whether this includes them looking after your children for a couple of hours to help you secure some ‘me time’, or just someone to open up to about your mental health, it’s vital you lean on the support of loved ones around you.

Keep organised

Big changes cause stress and anxiety, so bringing in some similarities to each day can help us feel grounded and less chaotic. Keep things like meal times and bedtimes consistent and, if you can, prepare things like packed lunches the night before.

Engage in self-care

Every week, be sure to pinpoint a couple of hours or so to engage in some mental health self-care, helping you to relax and reduce anxiety. See what works for you, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Socialise with friends - socialising is important for maintaining good mental health. Go for a coffee with a friend and notice how much better you feel after just having a good chat
  • Try some relaxation techniques – things like breathing exercises and muscle relaxation are incredibly effective ways of reducing stress and anxiety
  • Look after yourself – it’s easy to neglect yourself when you’re so focused on looking after your children. Good physical health has many great outcomes for your mental health, and so does eating well

Limit social media screen time

Excessive social media use can impact on mental health negatively if you don’t take some steps to limit this. It is also important to think about how much screen time you are exposed to, due to the impact on sleep, which we know also affects mental health. It’s true of both you and your children.

Parenting can become even more stressful under the microscope of social media. Remember that social media isn’t real life. Posts you see from fellow parents or parenting influencers might make you feel inferior – but it never tells the full story.

Switching off now and then helps to limit our exposure to the downside of social media. Consider a window each week where you put your phone in a drawer.

Seek professional help

If your mental health issues are persisting, it’s important that you take that next step and seek some mental health support. A good place to start is with your GP, who can offer a trusted voice and advice on what to do next.

Alternatively, you can reach out to a private provider of mental health support like Priory. We provide the best in mental health treatment across a network of UK hospital sites and wellbeing centres. Use the information below to get in touch and find out more about how we could help you.

Impact of parental mental illness on children

For many children, the mental health issues of a parent will not have an impact on them. However, some children may be affected – especially if their parent isn’t getting enough support or isn’t on a pathway to long-term wellbeing. Having a parent who is struggling with their mental health may result in the child:

  • Worrying for their parent
  • Missing school or not performing as well at school
  • Keeping their worries about their parent to themselves
  • Taking on a carers role, limiting their free time

Again, it’s important to  stress that feelings of guilt or shame about these issues is normal, but managing your mental health and parenting your child in a caring and loving way is absolutely possible.

How to talk to your child about mental health

how to talk to your child about mental health

It’s natural to want to hide something like mental health struggles from children in the hopes of protecting them – but being open and honest can help to reduce their anxiety and destigmatise the topic in their minds. Here are some things to consider when talking to your children about your mental health struggles:

  • Offer clear and honest information to them about what you’re going through, giving them the confidence and language to understand the problem and express their feelings about it
  • Be available  to check in with them regularly, to  find out their feelings and thoughts. Make it a safe space in which they are not judged for what they say or feel
  • Build them a support network, in which a trusted family friend or loved one is available to talk to your child about the topic of mental health
  • Reassure them that are not responsible for your mental health challenges. In fact, you are a team that can overcome this if you help and support one another
  • If your child does take on extra responsibility for your care, consider finding them a support group for young carers. Here, they can interact with other young people in their position. Take a look at The Children’s Society and their Young Carers Festival

This blog was clinically reviewed by Dr Josephine NealeConsultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Ticehurst House.

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