For many people, parenting is a hugely rewarding experience. However, it can also be challenging in equal measure. For people living with a mental health condition, such as depression, parenting might be even more difficult. Parenting with depression can often feel isolating and overwhelming, affecting not only your own wellbeing but also your parenting and the experiences of your children.
Here, we shed light on the relationship between depression and raising children, and provide practical strategies to help you to navigate this journey with resilience and hope.
Symptoms of parental depression
Depression has a number of common signs and symptoms that can be applied across many different circumstances. However, there are some core symptoms to look out for that are directly related to, or can be applied to, the context of raising children.
- Decreased engagement: you may find it difficult to engage with your children, struggling to show interest in their activities or conversations
- Inconsistency in parenting: you may face difficulty maintaining regular routines, from mealtimes to bedtime, creating inconsistency in parenting
- Irritability with children: heightened irritability or frustration may be directed towards your children, even for minor issues
- Overwhelming guilt: you might constantly feel guilty about how your depression could be affecting your children, exacerbating feelings of worthlessness or self-blame
- Lack of patience: a shorter temper and lack of patience with your children can be signs of depression
- Difficulty managing daily parenting tasks: everyday tasks, like preparing meals or helping with homework, may become overwhelming
- Withdrawal from parental role: you may find yourself withdrawing from your role as a parent, feeling detached or disconnected
How does depression affect raising children?
Depression can have a big impact on the dynamics of raising children. When a parent experiences bouts of sadness, lethargy and decreased interest in daily activities – common symptoms of depression – it can impact how available they are to parent their children, and how engaged they are when they do.
You may find it challenging to engage in playful activities, have consistent conversations, or manage daily routines, due to fluctuating moods and energy levels. Many people with depression find daily tasks difficult to complete. Preparing meals, managing school runs, or maintaining household chores can prove difficult.
You may observe a decrease in 'responsive parenting' – the ability to respond appropriately to your child's needs. Difficulties with mental health can make it harder to pick up on and respond to your child's emotional cues, leading to potential feelings of misunderstanding from the child's perspective. In addition, you may sometimes find it more difficult to bond with your child.
Many other symptoms of depression, like increased irritability or frustration, can also put strain on the home environment and relationship you have with other members of the household.
If you’re a parent who’s struggling with depression, it’s important to remember that this isn’t your fault. Depression is a complicated disease that requires long-term medical care in order to properly overcome. Any perceived change in parenting style or commitment should be placed within the context of the serious mental health challenges they are facing.
Can parental depression affect children?
Children are perceptive even from a young age, so it’s possible for parental depression to have an impact on their development. They may pick up on changes in your mood, behaviour and the overall home atmosphere. This can lead to feelings of confusion, worry or sadness.
In some cases, children may blame themselves for their parent's emotional state, leading to guilt or anxiety. They may also mirror depressive symptoms, like irritability, or withdrawal from friends and activities they previously enjoyed.
However, this doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent , or that you’ll raise an unhappy child. There are a number of things you can do to help manage your depression and ensure you continue your great work raising a happy, healthy child.
Tips on how to parent with depression
Parenting with depression is undeniably challenging, but it's crucial to remember that you're not alone and there are things you can do to help:
- Open communication: speak openly with your children about your mental health in ways they can understand. This may seem daunting, but honesty can foster understanding and empathy. Explain that you're dealing with an illness that sometimes makes you feel very sad or tired, but it's not their fault or their responsibility to fix. Reassure them that you're getting help, and it's OK to have difficult days
- Practise self-care: as a parent, it's easy to put your needs last, but self-care is essential when managing depression. This can include maintaining a healthy diet, ensuring you get enough sleep, getting out for some mental health boosting exercise, or practising coping strategies for depression, such as meditations. Taking care of your physical health will have a positive influence on your mental state
- Lean on your support network: don't hesitate to lean on friends, family or support groups. They can provide practical assistance with childcare, emotional support, or simply a listening ear when you need it. Remember, it's OK to ask for help
- Maintain a consistent routine: a consistent routine provides a sense of security and familiarity for you and your children. This can range from regular mealtimes, a bedtime routine, to scheduled time for homework and relaxation
- Be kind to yourself: it's important to remember that you don’t have to be perfect. There will be tough days, and that's alright. Don't judge yourself harshly for the challenges you're facing. Recognise your efforts and celebrate small victories
- Seek professional help: mental health professionals can provide a range of effective treatments for depression - such as counselling, therapy or medication. All of these treatment options can help to manage your symptoms and improve your mental health. Getting the help you need not only benefits you but also creates a healthier environment for your child
For any parents struggling with their mental health, know that help and support are available. Reach out to your GP for an initial discussion about your symptoms and potential treatment options.
Alternatively, you could contact a private provider of depression treatment, such as Priory. Our network of UK hospitals and wellbeing centres provide the very best treatments for mental health, delivered by expert teams of therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists.
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or submit an online enquiry form here.