Parenting with a mental illness
When you meet 34-year-old mother-of-two Narelle* for the first time, you’re not actually meeting her, but her ‘representative’ as she tells it.
“She’s the one who laughs and smiles a lot and says all of the right things so that people walk away thinking what a capable and loving mother she is,” Narelle admits.
“It’s not so bad when I only have to endure short interactions, but it makes things difficult if we get to know each other and they begin cracking the surface.”
As a long-time sufferer of depression, that surface is one Narelle says she has worked hard to fortify – particularly since she had her first child eight years ago.
“You’re always worried you’re not doing enough for your children or keeping up with routines the way you should, but the real fear is that if people start to notice what’s really going on with you, your children will eventually be taken away,” she says
“You’d rather just stay silent and continue to do the best you can until things get better.”
Narelle’s story, sadly, is an all-too-common one, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics which shows around one in six parents with a dependent child have a mental illness or mental health problem.
“Mental illness really doesn’t care if you’re a parent, it really can strike anyone,” says Associate Professor Vijaya Manicavasagar from Black Dog Institute.
“But we know it’s women – and particularly women of a child-bearing age – who are far more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than men.”
The reality of parenting with a mental illness
Perhaps the biggest problem with writing about mental health is that there is no one-size-fits-all statement you can make about symptoms and approaches, warns Professor Manicavasagar.
“From anxiety and/or generalised depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, the number of illness parents can suffer is vast, and they each present with their own symptoms, have their own challenges and will require their own health care plan,” she says.
Being able to engage with your children, keep on top of household duties and responsibilities and hold down a job are key concerns across the board, but the real issues of parenting with a mental illness run far deeper and could have far-reaching consequences if help is not actively sought.
Mums who suffer from prolonged depression and anxiety, for example, often have difficulty bonding with their babies, reveals Professor Manicavasagar.
“If a young child is exposed to abnormal interactions with mum where they smile at mum but mum doesn’t usually smile back, that child may grow up not knowing how to appropriately respond to others, which could impact their adult relationships negatively,” she says.
Kids who aren’t allowed to be kids because they’ve taken on the role of ‘responsible adult’ can also do it tough.
“Often we see children who find themselves having to support their parent emotionally, take over the domestic chores, or be the voice of reason reminding mum to take her medication, have a shower or come home and this really deprives a child of their childhood, leading them to believe the world is a place where love is conditional.”
Transmission of fears and sad thoughts are also common problems, says Professor Manicavasagar, who adds that when a child grows up hearing life is nothing but doom and gloom, there’s every chance they’ll start to believe it themselves.
“And if they’re growing up in an unpredictable environment where mum is always flying off the handle, they can have issues with emotion regulation themselves as they grow.”
The good news? How well a child copes under such conditions depends on their age, temperament and how quickly you seek help.
Although it’s easy to understand why Narelle fears being unmasked, seeking assistance for a mental health condition is one of the best things you can do for your child, says Professor Manicavasagar.
“Not only does it show your kids it’s not wrong or bad to suffer from a psychological problem, but it exhibits good help-seeking behaviour,” she says, explaining that through your actions, your kids can get a firm understanding that things can change.
Of course the more entrenched a problem becomes, the harder it is to shift, and for this reason, Professor Manicavasagar recommends reaching out as soon as you notice a shift in your moods.
“Bumbling your way through using dubious coping strategies might feel like it’s working briefly, but they’re dangerous because people can get stuck in a way of life that becomes completely dysfunctional and one which they build around the limitations they have,” she says. “Once they’re in a habit, it’s harder to break them out and help create a better life for them.”
In the first instance, contact your GP to set up a mental health care plan and to get a referral to see a mental health professional. Medicare rebates are available for up to 10 mental health services per calendar year to those with an assessed mental disorder.
If you would like your child to speak to someone about your condition, your family GP is also a good place to start, recommends Professor Manicavasagar. “It’s likely that your child will feel comfortable enough with them to open up and they’ll be able to access further assistance if they find you need the additional support.”
If you require help getting on top of domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping or help getting to appointments, speak to your mental health professional about the possibility of arranging government subsided services which can help you until you get back on your feet again.
And if you can, open yourself up to letting others get to know the real you and not your representative.
Family and close friends are great, but the more foot traffic your have marching towards your door to help out with school runs and play dates, the easier things will become.
Source > http://honey.nine.com.au/2017/07/14/10/03/parenting-with-a-mental-illness-motherhood-depression