"Parent" - a title that holds immense significance, and "mom" and "dad" - are blessings that bring boundless joy. Starting a family marks a milestone in our lives, and parenting becomes the most rewarding yet daunting, stressful, and challenging job in the world. The relationship between a parent and child is filled with love and friendship. However, when parents face mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders, it can profoundly impact their children's development, leading to abandonment and trust issues. This holds true for parents of any gender, age, health status, or income level.
The Impact of Parental Mental Health Problems
A recent study revealed a staggering statistic: one in fourteen children has a caregiver or parent with poor mental health. Parents play a crucial role in providing a stable home for their children, teaching them essential life skills. However, these day-to-day parenting tasks become increasingly difficult when a parent faces mental health challenges. For instance, anxiety may cause constant worry, depression can drain one's energy, and the fear of being judged by others can intensify social anxiety.
Parents or caregivers with mental health issues often find their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours affected. Consequently, they may struggle to carry out daily care tasks for their children, recognize their troubles, and meet their child's emotional needs. This struggle becomes even more challenging if they lack resources and support. Simple chores like cooking, shopping, and cleaning may seem impossible. Without outside support, children are left shouldering the burden of "adult chores" in the household. However, this scenario can be avoided if parents receive the therapy and support they need.
The Impact on Children
Research indicates a strong genetic link between mental illnesses such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. As a result, parents and children often face similar challenges, including inherited vulnerabilities, living in unsafe environments, discrimination, anxiety, and depression. According to the National Survey of Children's Health, one in three children under the age of 18 experiences at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) in their life.
Children with parents who have mental illnesses may feel angry, helpless, and embarrassed. Younger children become confused, while teenagers may grow resentful of their parent's behaviour. In some cases, adults may distance themselves from their parents altogether. Additional factors such as poverty, single-parent families, and marital problems further increase children's vulnerability. As a result, children may struggle with emotional instability, low self-esteem, constant worry about their parents, assuming caretaking responsibilities for the family, or even experiencing physical or emotional abuse due to their parent's mental health problems.
Alarming statistics estimate that approximately 21 million cases of depression could potentially have been prevented by shielding children from experiences such as domestic violence, abuse, neglect, witnessing violence in the home or community, family member suicides, substance abuse, or parental separation/divorce. Unfortunately, not all parents or children receive the necessary treatment, and some avoid seeking help due to the fear of losing custody of their children.
Parenting: A Lifelong Journey
"Parenting is a lifetime job and does not stop when a child grows up." - Jake Slope
Parents with mental health problems can still provide a safe and loving environment for their children. However, they may require additional support from family, friends, or healthcare professionals during challenging times, especially when facing mental health issues. Seeking help demonstrates a parent's dedication to their family and signifies that they are committed to being a good parents. Research indicates that many individuals battling mental illness can become loving and stable parents.
The future social, emotional, and behavioural development of children with parents facing mental illness depends on various factors, including the child's genetic vulnerability, the parent's behaviour, the child's understanding of the parent's illness, and the overall stability of the family. Engaging in certain self-care practices can enable parents to be responsive, attentive, and nurturing, ensuring that their child develops a sense of safety, security, and positive relationships with their environment.
Protective Measures for Parents
Parents with mental health problems can take several protective measures to safeguard their children's well-being. Effective strategies include learning effective coping skills, fostering healthy parent-child relationships, promoting open communication, providing a loving and caring environment, establishing a work-life balance, seeking support from relatives, teachers, or friends, and prioritizing their mental health. Implementing these measures increases family stability, strengthens parents' ability to meet their children's needs, and minimizes children's exposure to the negative impacts of their parent's illness.
Parents who seek treatment can lead positive, healthy lives, and their children may never experience the adverse effects of their parent's mental illness. However, it is essential to remember that no one is perfect. Parental mental illness can place a burden on families, and this burden intensifies if both parents face mental health disorders. Nevertheless, with the proper support and assistance, many families can stay together and thrive.
Parenting is a remarkable journey of unconditional love, challenges that test our resilience, and triumphant moments that shape our children's future. By recognizing the importance of mental health and seeking the help we need, we can navigate the complexities of parenting while nurturing a loving and supportive environment for our children to grow.