Parenting with a Mental Illness.
Rates of parenting, the likelihood of having children is very similar for individuals with psychiatric illness as compared to the general population. Thanks in part to improving care and changes in the way mental illness is managed, more and more people with a mental illness are living in the community and raising families, as they should be.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma and mistruths around parenting and mental illness. Being the child of a parent with a mental illness does not automatically lead to emotional disturbance. It doesn't mean that the parents will not be able to care adequately for their child. Neither does having a mental illness mean you must have external supports in place to raise your child. Countless parents successfully parent their children despite having a mental illness.
There is an increase in the awareness of parental mental illness and with it has come some funding, in Victoria the Families where a Parent has a Mental Illness (FaPMI) program was launched in 2007. In the 2016-7 Victorian state budget, there was now a small pool of funding for FaPMI co-coordinators at each local area mental health service. We are not aware of a similar program in WA, however, what it does show is that at a state government level thought and funding is being made to help parents with a mental illness.
Before we go any further, it's important to point out that parenting is an incredibly subjective and unique experience. There are many variables apart from parental mental illness, take for example, culture, where the child is being raised and other available supports which determine parenting.
Parenting with Depression
Lets take for example, a parent with depression. During an episode of depression, when someone's mood is low, and they may isolate themselves, and their self-care might decline. They might struggle to find it in themselves to care for themselves and their children. They might be on antidepressants which have sedating properties, which further compound the problem of having to take of themselves and their children. It's essential to take a moment and think about how being depressed can impact on how a parent who is unwell interacts with their child, takes care and supports their child.
Something that is often missed is that family and children are often a motivating factor in recovery, it can be a source of meaning, and stability and connection. We often hear about people giving up substance abuse, wanting to address their gambling when they have children to care for and raise.
There are some factors to which can help improve outcomes for parents who have a mental illness. These include the parents' ability to manage stress and the quality of support that are available to them. The nature of the relationship between the child and parent and the child's developmental age. A stronger bond and an older, more mature child will respond differently to a younger child or one where the connection with the parent isn't as strong.
Sometimes help with parenting doesn't mean an increase in practical supports. Take for example, a parent who has had a loss in confidence in their ability to parent due to a worsening in their anxiety or depression. Helping parents build up their own sense of confidence and confidence in their abilities is something a psychologist could help. Improving coping abilities and helping parents how to manage their levels of parenting stress using cognitive behavioural therapy is another way psychologists can help with parenting struggles.