By Shavonda Bean
Parenting with Mental Illness
Most of us have experienced a health situation in which our day-to-day lives come to a screeching halt. Those once manageable tasks become daunting, and you’ve had to lean on your tribe for help. Before long, you heal and life swings back into motion. However, when faced with an illness affecting your mental health, some expect to do it alone and in private. When living with depression and anxiety, life does not swing back into motion at the same speed, and parenting in the midst of it all can bring about overwhelming amounts of emotional strain. Frustration and tempers can rise, parents can become emotionally disconnected and a seemingly endless cycle of guilt can lead you into a tailspin. You are not alone. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicates more than 40 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with some form of anxiety, while depression affects more than 16 million adults each year. The two diagnoses are often comorbid. These numbers suggest that millions of children live with a severely depressed and anxious parent.
When these symptoms are left untreated, families and marriages suffer, and parent-child relationships are challenged. Research from the National Academy of Sciences reports that children of depressed parents can have health challenges, academic struggles, dysregulated emotions and are at risk of being abused. Intervention is critical, and we should deem it just as important as when we are faced with medical setbacks. Consider these points as you navigate your way to wellness:
- Be aware of risk factors. Parents of children with chronic illnesses are more likely than others to be depressed. Additionally, several mental illnesses carry a genetic link, so knowing your family history can help you stay ahead of the curve should symptoms present themselves.
- Do you know what to look for? Sometimes we aren’t aware of our own symptoms. Be mindful, listen to your body and loved ones who might see symptoms before you do. Are you sleeping significantly more or less? More grouchy or irritable? Are you avoiding situations or people? Do you find yourself yelling at your children more or completely disconnected from them? While one of these symptoms alone might not indicate a problem, seek help if you start to experience multiple symptoms for longer than one to two weeks. Make a call to your primary care doctor or visit a website such as www.psychologytoday.com to search for a professional to help you determine if there is a problem. Always call or seek immediate emergency medical attention if you start considering suicide or harming your children.
- Look for changes in your children’s behaviors or emotions that could indicate a need for getting them professional help to learn ways to cope.
- Depression and anxiety will convince you that there’s no time for self-care, but it must become a priority. Self-care can look like calling on your partner, tribe or a babysitter to stand in for an hour while you do what is healthy and makes you feel revived, valued or relaxed. Avoid the excuses and schedule it.
- The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to make safe and healthy decisions when faced with a crisis. Prepare a list of people that you can trust and talk to, should you find yourself completely hopeless or overwhelmed. Sit with your loved ones and/or your therapist and decide who can help care for your children, if necessary, should you need long-term treatment or hospital admission.
You cannot and should not do this alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help;, you and your children’s lives are worth it.
Shavonda Bean is a licensed psychological associate and owner of Essential Assessments & Behavioral Health. Visit www.EssentialHealthNC.com for more information.