Mind Matters: 5 tips for better parenting with a mental illness

Photo by Ulza/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — Jana Miller is a mother of five. She also suffers from depression, something she has struggled with on and off since she was 16 years old, especially after major life changes.

I once told my husband I didn’t think I had ever been cut out for motherhood,” Miller told Mind Matters, “and that maybe I’d been doing the wrong thing with my life the last 14 years.”

Parenting can be a challenge any day of the week; however, it can become more difficult when the parent struggles with a mental illness. In the last segment of Mind Matters, we attempted to ease the concerns of parents who may be struggling by giving an idea of how their illness may affect how the state views their parenting.

Read more: Mind Matters: If I have a mental illness, will my kids be taken away?

However, that peace of mind doesn’t fix all the problems. A parent with mental illness can have added burdens from lack of sleep, decreased energy and enthusiasm, trouble concentrating and more.

“After my last baby was born in July 2016, I never really fully recovered emotionally from a difficult pregnancy,” Miller said. “I was exhausted, frustrated and overwhelmed with everything I needed to keep track of and everyone who needed my attention. I was angry or apathetic all the time.”

Although a parent may live with a chronic or mental illness, that doesn’t mean they can’t have a healthy family or be able to fulfill their potential as a parent. PsychCentral.com has provided a few tips to help parents cope with a mental illness.

Engage in treatment.

Even if you don’t want to seek help or get better for yourself, do it for your kids. Model healthy choices. Remember that acknowledging you need help and seeking it are signs of strength.

For Miller, after realizing how long it had been since she felt excited about anything, she contacted her obstetrician.

“I filled out a depression screening form, shared a little about how I’d been feeling with the nurse practitioner, and she put me on Zoloft,” she said. “In less than a week I was feeling better and realizing just how depressed I had been. After several weeks we upped my dose a little and I was back to feeling capable, calm and alive.”

It wasn’t an easy decision, however. When she was first considering antidepressants, she told her husband that she felt like she was cheating, “like maybe the way I was feeling was the ‘real’ me and I shouldn’t be messing with nature like that – that I should trust the Lord to heal me if he saw fit.”

But she soon realized that was the depression talking.

Depression does that. It confuses you and convinces you that this is the real you,” she said. “But it’s not. So if you’re depressed, tell yourself it’s not you, that those things that feel true just are not true, and get help – whatever that looks like in your life.”

Some have found help through exercise therapy. In January, Mind Matters related the story of Sarah Shuck, who had been struggling with postpartum depression. She also was prescribed antidepressants, but as she started to wean herself off them, she knew she needed something else to keep her spirits up and returned to a former passion: running.

The important thing is to find what works for you personally, and the first step is talking to a professional.

Create a crisis plan.

During a calm time, sit down with your therapist or family doctor and establish a plan of action for emergencies, such as being admitted to a hospital. Consider concerns such as where your kids will stay and how they’ll get to school.

Connect with others.

Mental illness can be isolating. But isolation is detrimental to both parents and kids. Most experts emphasize the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive individuals, whether it’s family, a spiritual leader, school counselor, mental health professional or parents with similar experiences.

In Miller’s case, the antidepressants have helped her get over this hump.

“When my husband suggests inviting neighbors over for a barbecue … instead of wanting to hide in a closet I say, ‘That sounds fun.’”

Attend to your needs.

Problems occur when parents deny their symptoms and extend themselves beyond their limits. If you’re too depressed to go to the ball game, accept this limitation and stay home to take care of yourself.

Practice your passions.

Ryan Howe, a psychologist, writer and professor, suggests parents engage in activities that go “beyond the roles of parent and patient,” whether it’s “exercise, creativity, travel, learning, bungee jumping — whatever reinforces the unique parts of your identity.”

Howe suggests that it can also be beneficial to involve your kids in these activities, adding that they’ll be thrilled to see mom or dad enjoying themselves and expressing those parts of their personality they really enjoy.

Miller agrees that it’s important for her kids to see her attentive and having a good time.

“When I can willingly get out of bed at 6 a.m., when I laugh at my kids’ silliness, when I make baking shows with them and come up with my own ideas for summer fun, I’m thankful for my meds.”

For more tips on parenting with a mental illness, go to the PsychCentral website.

Written by HEIDI BAXLEY, Iron County Prevention Coalition coordinator, and LAUREN MCAFEE, Cedar City Library in the Park grant and development officer.

About the “Mind Matters” Series

As the Mind Matters series continues, we will highlight several Southern Utah mental health providers and organizations, as well as success stories, but if you or someone you know is seeking help or resources now, go to the following websites:

If you or someone you know needs helps immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911. There is help and hope available.

St. George News “Mind Matters” series aims to illuminate how mental illnesses affect society and how to maintain mental health.

Articles are contributed by Cedar City Library in the Park in partnership with the Iron County Prevention Coalition and will highlight available resources people may access in Southern Utah and online. However, if you have a success story you would like to share as part of the series, email Heidi Baxley at [email protected] or Lauren McAfee at [email protected].

Read more: All the articles in the Mind Matters series

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.