As a mum who suffers from severe mental illness (Bipolar) I do find I sometimes struggle as a parent. I am happy one minute and feeling low the next. I have a productive day and then I crash for days later.
I suffer chronic pain, medication side effects and panic attacks. I look fine to you but my severe anxiety is triggered by pretty much anything. However, I must plod on, I am a mum.
Over the years I have found that I am in tune to my mental illness. I know my triggers, I avoid certain situations and I am forever planning just in case I miss anything important. But mental illness can be naughty, it can also sneak up on me and before I know it I am a delusional mess convinced I am right and everyone else is wrong.
Being a parent in general is stressful but I truly believe that becoming a mum had a positive impact on my mental health. Although I suffered from postpartum psychosis, after this I went on to find that being a parent kept me grounded. When my head would go funny I would seek help faster as I did not want it to affect family life.
I have been chatting to Catherine Coleman, blogger, writer and registered mental health nurse. Catherine has worked for the NHS and in private hospitals in the UK, Australia and New Zealand looking after people with a range of mental health problems. Catherine has also recently completed a Masters degree in Public Health.
Please find Catherine’s helpful tips below
There are lots of things you can do to make sure you are feeling well enough to look after your kids. Don’t forget, your mental health is your priority. If you don’t look after yourself, you can’t look after your children to the best of your ability.
If you are prescribed medication, make sure you take it as prescribed. If you find it is making you feel tired, fuzzy or giving you any other side effects then you must talk to your doctor. They can change your medication or change the dose. Don’t suddenly stop taking it because that can make you feel worse.
Try and stay healthy by eating a balanced diet and exercising. Going for a walk every day with your baby is a great way to get exercise, fresh air and get out of the house. Taking your child to the park is also a good way to play and bond with your child.
Practice mindfulness or relaxation and allow yourself some ‘me’ time every day. You might like to relax in a bath and read a book, or catch up on a Netflix box set. Whatever it is, try to practice some self-care every day and make time for you.
Play with your kids and have fun. They will love spending time with you and you will feel happier and more connected with them.
Try to surround yourself with a good support network. If you have a partner, make sure he knows about your mental health needs and can support you when you are having a bad day.
Speak to close friends or family. Try to have at least one person you know you can rely on if you need help. It should be someone you trust and ideally someone your child knows and is happy with.
You might need extra help some days with cooking, cleaning or daily chores when you are finding it hard to cope. If you have one or two people you can turn to, it will take the pressure off you and you can focus on yourself for a few hours.
Get involved in local mummy and baby groups. Find out if your local authority has a Sure Start centre. They offer some great free groups and can give you advice and support too. Meeting other mums can be really useful for reducing any feelings of isolation or loneliness with a new baby or a toddler. Groups can also give your some structure to your day and week, which you might find helpful.
If you have a community mental health team, make sure they are aware of your skills and needs as a parent. They should be available to speak to when you need them and they will be happy to offer extra support to make sure you are well enough to look after yourself and your child.
There is a lot of stigma around mental health. If you find yourself being stigmatised, judged or discriminated against by others, do your best to ignore it. You are just as good a parent as someone without a mental illness and you shouldn’t let prejudice affect you.
Think carefully before you share your mental health story with someone. If you don’t feel comfortable telling someone about your mental illness, then don’t (you should be open and honest with your doctors and treating team).
Self-stigma can be just as upsetting. Many people with a mental illness feel they are unworthy or not as good at something because of their illness.
Practice saying positive affirmations such as:
- I am brave and courageous for trying even when I think I can’t do it.
- In the eyes, mind and heart of my child, I am a good mum.
- Loving my children is more important than loving every moment of motherhood.
- I will do my best as a mum, and that will always be enough.
- I will let go of how I think today is supposed to go and accept how it imperfectly happens.
Mental illness is very unpredictable. You might feel fine one week then for no apparent reason, you might find yourself slipping into a relapse.
You should be prepared for these times, especially when you have young children. It is really important that your child is cared for even if you are not able to do so. Don’t worry about your child being taken away. This is unlikely because social services would rather a child stays with it’s mother unless they are in danger.
Make sure your support system is in place. Make sure your partner/mother/friend or whoever is your closest support person knows what to do if you are becoming unwell. Make sure they know the early signs and can act quickly to stop things getting worse.
You should also know your early warning signs and contact whoever you need to get help. There is no shame in asking for help and it will stop your life spiralling out of control.
If you have a mental health team, make sure you have a care plan in place for what to do if you have a mental health crisis. The care plan should include where your children can stay if they need to, who can look after them and any other important information.
If you don’t have community mental health care, you can always write your own care plan. It should state what you need when you are unwell, who can help and how they can help and well as what people can do to help with your children. If you have this, your support network will be able to carry out your wishes even if you are too unwell to make difficult decisions.
For helpful information on mental health please check out https://www.mind.org.uk/