Sleeplessness, a change in hormones and the increasing demands on a person’s mind and body that come with parenthood often make an existing mental illness worse. It’s rough!
There are some things that new parents who struggle with mental illness can do to help themselves adjust to parenthood.
1. Talk to your doctor or psychiatrist. This is vital for women in particular. Your doctor will know how the medications you are on will affect you and your child while pregnant or nursing. They’ll be able to discuss the risks and benefits of continuing or stopping psychiatric medications. They are also knowledgeable about the risks for postpartum depression, a serious illness that is treatable.
2. Realize you are not alone. Many, many parents have a mental illness. Sadly, it’s something some people feel like they need to hide. The more you can open up about your struggles, the more support you can get. It may take some time and leg work, but being able to connect with other parents who have similar issues can make a world of difference.
3. Take care of you. Get a babysitter if you need to, even if it’s just for an hour or two so you can sleep. Eat healthy foods. Get out of the house at least once a day. Take a shower, brush your teeth, get out of your pajamas, or whatever you need to do to feel like you’re connected to the rest of the world.
4. Be aware of your mental health. Notice if you begin to feel more edgy or angry at your child. Look for signs that you need some additional help, such as increased isolation, sadness, decreased appetite, or thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else (see #5).
5. Seek help when you need it. There is no shame in calling up a friend if you feel like you’re getting out of control. There is nothing embarrassing about telling your spouse that you need to go to the hospital because you’re scared you might hurt yourself or your child. Many, many people have had to get help. This is definitely a case of “better safe than sorry.”
Stress can exacerbate both mental and physical illness. And children, no matter how much you love and adore them, are stressful. Having a mental illness makes someone no less of a mother or father, no less of a person. It’s simply part of being human.
One of the most important things that you can do for your children is to love yourself. If they see this, they’ll mirror you. They will grow to care for, nurture, and love themselves as well. What a wonderful, wonderful thing.
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Parenting and Mental Illness - New Wings (April 6, 2014)
Last reviewed: 10 May 2012