Parenting With a Mental Illness

When you meet 34-year-old mother-of-two Narelle* for the first time, you’re not actually meeting her, but her ‘representative’ as she tells it.

“She’s the one who laughs and smiles a lot and says all of the right things so that people walk away thinking what a capable and loving mother she is,” Narelle admits.

“It’s not so bad when I only have to endure short interactions, but it makes things difficult if we get to know each other and they begin cracking the surface.”

parenting with a mental illness Photo: article supplied

As a long-time sufferer of depression, that surface is one Narelle says she has worked hard to fortify – particularly since she had her first child eight years ago.

“You’re always worried you’re not doing enough for your children or keeping up with routines the way you should, but the real fear is that if people start to notice what’s really going on with you, your children will eventually be taken away,” she says

“You’d rather just stay silent and continue to do the best you can until things get better.”

Narelle’s story, sadly, is an all-too-common one, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics which shows around one in six parents with a dependent child have a mental illness or mental health problem.

“Mental illness really doesn’t care if you’re a parent, it really can strike anyone,” says Associate Professor Vijaya Manicavasagar from Black Dog Institute.

“But we know it’s women – and particularly women of a child-bearing age – who are far more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than men.”

The reality of parenting with a mental illness

Perhaps the biggest problem with writing about mental health is that there is no one-size-fits-all statement you can make about symptoms and approaches, warns Professor Manicavasagar.

“From anxiety and/or generalised depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, the number of illness parents can suffer is vast, and they each present with their own symptoms, have their own challenges and will require their own health care plan,” she says.

Being able to engage with your children, keep on top of household duties and responsibilities and hold down a job are key concerns across the board, but the real issues of parenting with a mental illness run far deeper and could have far-reaching consequences if help is not actively sought.

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