Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/7/2022
Parenting with a mental illness can bring its own set of challenges. If you’re a parent, you know family life can be stressful and exhausting at times, which can exacerbate a mental health condition.
And whether you deal with depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, your psychological wellbeing can have an impact on the happiness of your child.
For these reasons, staying on top of treating and coping with a mental health disorder is of the utmost importance when you are a parent.
If you are parenting with a mental illness, you are not alone. In a survey conducted between 2008 and 2014, about 18 percent of parents reported experiencing mental illness in the last year.
Unfortunately, if your mental health is not in good shape, it can affect your child. There is research that suggests that children of parents or caregivers who reported having poor mental health were more likely to have poor overall health or deal with mental or emotional disorders.
Since kids with parents who have mental health issues can be negatively impacted, it’s important to do what you can to mitigate the impact of your condition on your child.
Taking care of yourself and utilizing mental health services is crucial. In addition, you can do things that help protect your child, including:
Be kind to yourself: If you are beating yourself up because you feel guilty about being a parent with mental health challenges, you may be wasting precious emotional resources that could go to your child (or children). Remember that no one is a perfect parent all of the time.
Focus on structure: Your psychological state may feel out of control, but try to create as much structure as possible for your kids. Without it, kids may feel heightened anxiety.
Be honest: Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. If you try to hide your condition, it may backfire and make them feel even more uncertain or anxious. While maintaining age-appropriate boundaries, open up to them and reassure them that all will be okay.
Get your kid help: Therapy can help kids process emotions that they may feel — without having to worry that they’ll hurt your feelings.
Embrace play: Kids should play. But if they live with someone with mental illness, they may feel they need to act more adult-like. You can help with this by encouraging lots of fun kid activities.
Depressive disorders — like major depression or bipolar disorder — and anxiety are some of the more common mental health conditions that parents may deal with. If you are dealing with these or any other psychological distress, it’s important to seek out treatment so that you can fully be there for your child and keep your bond strong.
Two common treatments for anxious or depressed parents are therapy and medication. These treatments can be used for a variety of other conditions as well.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the more popular and effective forms of talk therapy. When you engage in CBT, you work with a mental health professional to look closely at behaviors that don’t serve you or your emotional state. From there, you’ll figure out ways to change those behaviors.
There are a number of medications available and it’s best to speak with a healthcare provider about what could be the right fit for you. Some of the medications prescribed for anxiety are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs),beta-blockers and benzodiazepines.
All of these medications require a prescription. If you’d like to consider taking medication for depression or anxiety, Hers offers online mental health consultations.
Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression among parents are relatively common. And just like you’d want to deal with a physical health issue, it’s important to deal with emotional health issues, because they can affect the health and happiness of your children.
If you are navigating parental depression or another condition, make sure you are kind to yourself — beating yourself up won’t help anyone. It’s also key to make sure you are upfront with your kids and create structure for them.
From there, you may want to consider medication or therapy — or both — to help you manage what’s going on and enable you to be the best parent possible.