There is a stigma attached to parents who have a mental illness. This stigma is more severe than for any other chronic illness, like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Many people believe that all parents with a mental illness are incapable of being a good parent. They assume that the children of these parents will be emotionally scarred, abused and neglected. This is simply not true. Most parents with a mental illness, that is being properly managed, are no different than parents without a mental illness.
With the wide variety of mental illnesses and symptoms, there will be some parents that find it difficult to be a “good parent”. However, studies have shown there is an equal percentage of parents without a mental illness that have difficulty with parenting.
Several mental illnesses, depression for example, commonly manifest during a person’s prime parenting years (ages 30 to 44). This can make us question our own parenting abilities and cause us to worry about whether we are a fit parent or not. Especially, if we have limited knowledge on what living with a mental illness is like and we have our own mistaken beliefs about the mentally ill.
As parents with a disease, the best thing we can do is get help. Proper treatment will help us get our symptoms under control, so we can be the best parent we can be. It will show our children that there is no shame in seeking help for our mental illness.
Here are a few tips to encourage us as we learn to manage our disease and parent at the same time.
Recognize the illness and get treatment
Recognize that it is possible to have a mental illness and be a “good parent” at the same time.
Recognize that staying with your treatment plan is the best way to get better.
Research has shown that “breaking the silence” and discussing a parent’s mental illness, in an age appropriate manner, can help strengthen the family unit and its individual members. This approach has been found to be helpful in keeping the children resilient and also channeling the worry and self doubt of the parent into more positive outlets. Like strengthening the parent-child relationship.
Some tips for a parent with a mental illness are:
Pay attention to your parenting and make sure your illness does not disrupt your children’s lives.
Make sure that your children continue to go to school.
Encourage your children’s participation in outside activities (sports, church, and etc.).
Encourage their relationships with peers and important adults in their lives (grandparents, uncles, aunts)
Make sure your children understand that it is not their fault that their parent is ill and that they are receiving treatment to get better.
Be prepared to talk more than once. It takes families and children time to understand what is going on. They also may need to be reassured several times that you are getting help and are working hard to get better.