Parenting When You Have a Mental Illness Like Bipolar Disorder or Depression
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Managing a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder on one’s own can be challenging enough, but what if you have children that you are trying to take care of?
Mental health problems like depression and bipolar disorder could hinder your capacity to connect with friends and family, not to mention co-workers and the society at large. Not many people understand that mood disorders causes inexpressible distress to the sufferer and can be debilitating. Furthermore, those with mood disorders also tend to isolate themselves. Many sufferers also fear being discriminated against. A lot of them fear that they will be dragged into custody battles by their one-time partner and their children will be taken under the behest that he/she is unfit to be a parent.
A lot of parents go through mental illness at some point in their life
What we all should understand is that almost one person in every five experiences a mental illness at least once in their lifetime. From this we can infer that a lot of these people are parents too. Some of these mental illnesses last for a short time – like a period of depression following a loss. Others, like chronic depression, OCD, chronic anxiety, and bipolar disorder are long term mental illnesses. Bipolar disorder especially can be pretty tricky to diagnose, since the symptoms can be confused with depression. Many mothers don’t get diagnosed until after they have had their first child. There is also a genetic risk factor – bipolar disorder tends to run in families.
That said, these mental illnesses can be managed. And one can also parent one’s children successfully.
Managing mood disorders
There are many psychotherapeutic methods that can help you cope. Emotion focused therapy, for instance, can help you develop strategies to cope with your symptoms, help change negative thinking and actions, and help to monitor and predict your moods to try to prevent a relapse.
I have talked to many parents who manage their mental illness and they all say that they are glad to have children in their lives and would never, ever regret having them. Many of these parents have kindly shared what worked for them – their coping strategies, and I want to share them with you.
“Take responsibility” – Find a psychologist you trust and be compliant with the treatment. Understand that you are not alone when it comes to mental illness, but it is important that you try and get help. Many people shy away from seeking support for mood disorders because they are embarrassed or ashamed of their illness. Nonetheless, when you have children, you will need a support system.
“Open up to family and friends.” – You will be surprised by the response. Like I previously mentioned, many people go through mental illness and you will find that there are many of those in your circle too. You will find them opening up to you too and you will realise that you are not alone. Depression and other mood disorders can make you want to feel invisible. You will feel like isolating yourself. Try to do the reverse instead. Make your close friends your “extended family”. Parenting can be a tough, even under normal circumstances. When you are struggling with an illness, you need the safety net of family and friends to tide you over your tough days. Whether it is babysitting, household chores or taking your child to school, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Furthermore, when you are at your worst, your friends or family can help organise your child’s care.
“Tell your children.” – If your symptoms are severe, these can be confusing or alarming to your children. Talking about your illness to your children will help them gain great understanding. Even the young ones will know that mom or dad is having a “bad day”. Many of you may hesitate wondering if the child will be ashamed. Trust me, if you explain things, they will not have a shame of the illness.
“Go easy on yourself and don’t beat yourself up.” – None of us are perfect. A mental illness probably makes you more conscious of your shortcomings. If you feel that you are being less of a parent, then you are not alone. If you are having a bad day, you don’t have to feel guilty. Children are pretty resilient and they will understand.
“Give your best days to your children.” – When you are at your best, don’t forget to enjoy your time with your children.
Do you have any coping strategies to share? If so, please leave a comment below.
Psychologists at the Centre specialised in Mood Disorders
If you are looking for help, whether for yourself or for a loved one, our psychologists can assist in exploring underlying issues through therapy. Please visit our practitioners’ page to find out more, or call (03) 9820-5577 for an appointment or to make enquiries.
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