Parenting While Depressed
It’s no secret that many of us experienced a challenging holiday season. It may have been marked by cancelled travel plans, socially-distant gatherings, or even positive COVID-19 tests. As we take down our Christmas decorations and return to work or school — virtually in many areas across the country— it’s difficult to start another year with so much fear and uncertainty. It’s even more difficult as a parent, when the fate of your family’s happiness feels like yours alone to carry. For many parents, the crushing weight of this responsibility leads to depression.
If You’re Parenting While Depressed, Know That You’re Not Alone
Let’s be honest: Parenting while depressed can feel like an impossible task. So how do you know if your struggle is more than just a rough patch? If you experience sadness, hopelessness, irritability, fatigue, insecurity, or anger for an extended period of time, you may have depression. You may feel buried by mom (or dad) guilt — that overwhelming feeling that you’re not enough for your kids or that you’re letting them down time and time again. These emotions are difficult to manage and can lead to functional impairment, meaning that they get in the way of you completing basic tasks and daily responsibilities. While this experience is normal for every parent from time to time, especially during this demanding moment in history, you might feel especially hopeless and/or like the situation is helpless, which may be something more than the usual stressors of parenting.
Many parents think they’re alone in these feelings, but it’s actually a common experience. Nearly 20 percent of adults in the United States will be diagnosed with clinical depression during their lifetime, with women most vulnerable during the parenting years. It’s also important to note that moms can experience postpartum depression, which affects one in four women, up to three years after giving birth. In addition to depression, parents often experience sleep issues, anxiety disorders and persistent worrying, and nervousness as well.
Unfortunately, the percentage of people impacted by mental health conditions are growing as the pandemic continues: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that rates of depression in adults have increased fourfold in the past two years. Plus, 49 percent of mothers and 40 percent of fathers with kids under the age of 18 have reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the stress of COVID-19.
The Importance of Seeking Help If You’re Parenting While Depressed
Only about half of depressed adults receive the proper care — and the rates for mothers may be even lower. When you’re working full-time and parenting full-time, trying to squeeze one more thing into your already-packed day feels unfeasible. One benefit of the pandemic is the wider availability of telehealth services, making it easier than ever to add an appointment to your calendar.
The first step, then, is to believe that your mental health matters and treat your depression as you would any other condition that requires attention. Talk to an understanding partner, friend, or relative and make a plan to get help. You can ask your primary care physician for a referral to a mental health professional. Fortunately, research shows that depression is highly responsive to treatment. Regular talk therapy sessions, combined with mood-stabilizing medications when needed, is life-changing for many patients.
Depression can make your work as a parent seem unbearable. It’s important to remember, though, that there is hope for a brighter future. The sooner you reach out for help, the better life will be for you and your family.