Parents are their children’s biggest supporters during childhood. All they want is to make sure their daughters and sons reach health and success in life, but what happens if parents’ mental health takes a turn? Exactly how are parenting and mental health linked?
First, let’s straighten out what mental health is since there is a lot of unnecessary stigma and misunderstandings around it. Mental health is something we all have. It includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being and influences our daily living, such as physical health, how we handle stress and relate to others as well as how we make choices. More or less everything. It is also the other way around since all of the above easily affect mental health too. Depression, anxiety, burn out and even stress are only a few examples of how poor mental health appears.
Now when we know what it is, let’s see how it can be experienced by children when parents are struggling with poor mental health. It can be difficult for parents to provide nurturing care in a way they have done before, which therefore may impact the children negatively. Poor mental health in parents affects children’s own mental health too. Sometimes parents and children share risks that influence their mental health e.g. an illness in the family, unsafe home environment, or discrimination. Other common stressors are lack of money and support, and why not bring up the never-ending Covid-19 pandemic. The shouting, withdrawing, overspending of money, and emotional eating do not go past the eyes of children. They easily sense the state of their parents, even if it is not said straight out. What the parents may see as stress management can harm more than help.
Many situations are overwhelming and just too much for parents and it is important to deal with them in healthy ways as soon as possible to be able to cope. It is not always easy, but there are things to do to deal with stress and emotions:
- Learn to see the signs of feeling emotionally exhausted
- Talk with a trusted person who is willing to give support
- Make lifestyle choices that will make sleeping and eating better
- Get outside and exercise (or go for a walk) to release those feel-good hormones
- Leave stressful situations
- Join a support group, when stress is linked to illness, disability, addiction or similar
- Remember, you are not alone
Parents must take care of themselves! Self-care is crucial and how it is done is all up to every person. One size does not fit all here. For someone, it can be a walk on the beach, for someone else a phone call with a good friend or writing a journal. Every parent must find what suits them best, what they need to gain strength and emotional stability.
Never hesitate to ask for help from a professional if you cannot cope on your own. If in urgent need to talk with someone contact:
SADAG Mental Health Line: 011 234 4837
LifeLine South Africa: 0861 322 322
Written by: Anna-Karin Öhrnstedt