India is a country where mental health is not taken seriously. When it comes to physical health, people in India are so conscious and aware these days. They know everything about what to eat and what not to. But when it comes to mental health, people know nothing about it. It is still a taboo subject in our country that is susceptible to age-old stigmas. People hesitate to seek help and try to hide it.
What is mental illness or mental disorder?
Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion, or behaviour or a combination of all three. Mental illnesses are associated with distress or problems functioning in social, professional, or family activities. It is treatable, and the vast majority of individuals suffering from mental illnesses continue to function in their daily lives. There are various types of mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, anxiety, bipolar disorder, alcohol problem or drug dependency, etc. A report by the WHO (World Health Organisation) revealed that 7.5% of the Indian population suffers from some kind of mental illness. It also predicts that by 2021, roughly 20% of India will suffer from mental illness.
When a parent becomes mentally unfit it can be very difficult for them to explain to their child what is happening and for the child to make sense of their parent's behaviour. This can increase distress and anxiety across the family.
How can parental mental illness affect their children?
Large numbers of children grow up with a parent who is mentally unfit. Parental mental health can affect the lives of dependent children through both direct and indirect mechanisms. It has been shown to affect attachment formation and the cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioural development of children. These children are also at a higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders in childhood, adolescence, and later in adult life. In view of the potential impact of parental mental illness, intervention, and prevention at an early stage are of great importance.
The family plays an important role in child development. It seems evident that the child’s age is a major factor in contributing to the outcomes for children at risk, and that younger children are at a higher risk. Emotional ties with people outside the family can also moderate the effects of the mental health of parents. Children benefit from having access to non-familial trusted adults such as teachers or educational staff, as well as other adults in the parents’ social support network or friends. Parental mental illness can lead some children to become anxious. They might act sad or upset or refuse to talk or do things. They find it really difficult to concentrate on their studies and find it really hard to talk about their parent’s illness especially when they have had no explanation for the same. This stops them from getting help.
Should you tell your child about your mental condition?
A thought that crosses the mind of almost every parent suffering from mental illness is that should they tell their kids about their mental health? It’s quite obvious that every parent wants to shield their children from any confession or concern. On the one hand, they want to be honest; on the other hand, they think that not saying anything will protect their children. However, according to research, not telling your child can actually have the opposite effect. Research shows that if parents don’t tell their children about their mental health or mental illness, children develop misinformation and worries which can be worse than the reality.
Here are some tips on how to broach this topic with them:
- Talk to your doctor i.e. mental health consultant. Ask them about the best ways to approach your child.
- How you talk to your child will largely depend on their age and maturity level.
- The kids may have a variety of questions, avoid dismissing your kid's concerns. And prepare your talk with a mental health professional, who can help you answer their questions accurately.
How to manage the challenges of parenting with a mental illness?
Having a mental disorder doesn’t make you a bad parent. But sometimes this might make it hard for you to be the parent you want to be. You forget to look after yourself. It’s important to take care of your physical and mental health because if you’re healthy, you will be able to be a better parent. Here are some strategies that you may find helpful:
- If you’re facing any trouble sleeping at night, try to take naps during the daytime. This will help you make better decisions.
- Physical activity is important for our overall health and wellbeing. Schedule time for exercise in your day and try to maintain a healthy weight. It reduces the risk of many chronic diseases.
- Eat healthily and stay hydrated.
- Maintain and develop social networks to interact with. Join groups on social media, go for events they organize, and interact.
- Some ME time will definitely help. Like go shopping; go for a walk; get in a car and take a mini road trip. Basically, do whatever makes you happy.
- Seek professional help for your mental health. Consult a therapist about the issues you’re facing.
YES, it’s true that parental mental health has a major impact on children and their development. And if you’re struggling, it’s okay to reach out for help or support from friends and organizations that are there to help. But it’s really important to understand that all the parents have difficult times and there’s no such thing as being a “perfect parent”. In these difficult times, you can talk to your child because it’s important to give children reassurance and support. Because spending time with your children can actually help you with your mental health. Remember that taking care of mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health.
Being a parent is dirty and scary and beautiful and hard and miraculous and exhausting and thankless and joyful and frustrating all at once. It’s everything.” — Jill Smokler