Being a parent can be equally the most wonderfully joyous and the most stressful job you will have in your lifetime. When you or your partner is battling with mental health issues, or is feeling suicidal, it can make this job all the more complex, writes Mary Kate Hickey.
“It is important for you both to understand that most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness improve over time, and that it does get better. The first key step is seeking help from a mental health or suicide prevention organization,” explains Marguerite Kiely, Clinical Director of Pieta House.
What to do if your partner is deeply depressed or suicidal:
1. Offer support
Dealing with mental illnesses, especially when that brings up suicidal ideation, can really put a person through rough times. During their bad days they need your support to remind them that they don’t have to face it alone.
Marguerite suggests offering key support to a partner who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, “help meet the needs of your partner and build their resilience back up.” Simple things like bringing them a cup of tea or coffee in bed, or an extra blanket to keep them cosy while they’re experiencing a low day can make a difference.
Talk with them through the good and bad days, and take an interest in how they are feeling and how their day went. Even just sitting and staying there with them through a particularly bad day, can show that you care, love and support them through all the ups and downs.
2. Taking care
Laughter is a powerful medicine for combating many mental illnesses, including severe depression. Find the things that make you and your partner laugh and feel more positive. Those happy or silly moments that you enjoy together and get a laugh out of it will help to keep you feeling close and connected, and remind you of the joy in your relationship.
Also remember to take care of your own wellbeing, as mental illness can be a tough thing to see someone you love go through.
“The partner of someone who is suicidal needs to remember that they have access to support too, because it is normal to feel strained in this situation. Getting help and talking about the situation alone or as a couple with a professional will help both in feeling more positive about how to cope with their circumstances,” says Marguerite.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask
Marguerite suggests that partners learn what to say and feel comfortable when asking their other-half how they’re feeling. Ask simple questions like “how was today on a scale of one to ten” or “was today a good or a bad day” and really take in and listen to what they have to say.
Also don’t be afraid to ask them what they need of you. During a good period, ask them what they need the most when they are going through a rough patch so you can help them through it. Doing this will benefit both of you, as you wont be trying to guess what they need, and they will have the comfort that they need at a hard time.
“It is normal to feel a little anxious and be treading on eggshells when your partner is struggling with their mental health. Most agencies will offer support to the partner of those suffering and help them to understand how to react to and talk to their partner at tough times,” explains Marguerite
Most importantly don’t be afraid to ask for help. Things like counseling or therapy can help bring clarity both to your partner about their feelings, and to you about how to understand them better. Neither of you have to go through such a tough time on your own, there is no shame in asking for help if you need it.
4. Remember APR
Marguerite asks those who are concerned for their partners mental wellbeing to remember the ‘APR’, which stands for:
- Ask your partner if they are feeling suicidal.
- Persuade them to allow you to seek support for them.
- Refer into the right services.
“In Pieta House we take 3rd party referrals for those who are suffering from poor mental health and suicidal ideation” adds Marguerite.
Things to do if you’re a parent struggling with your mental health and/or are suicidal:
1. Get support
Marguerite suggests getting support straight away if you are struggling with a mental illness, or are feeling suicidal. “Stigma around mental health is thankfully lessening, and taking care of both your physical and mental wellbeing is extremely important, early intervention is the key to recovery,” says Marguerite.
Connect with those close to you and form your own support group with trusted friends and family members, so that you have people to call on in times of need. At times of ill physical health you may need someone to help with caring and doing everyday tasks, it is no different at times of ill mental health.
If you are a single parent, try teaming up with other parents you know and trust, and share in duties like school runs, play dates and babysitting. You can return the favour to them during your well periods, and they in turn can support you during lower times.
2. Take care of your mental health
Eating healthily, drinking plenty of water and getting some fresh air or lightly exercising on a regular basis can help to stabilise your mental health and leave your mind clear. Consider trying things like mindfulness, or relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation to bring balance and clarity to your body and mind when struggling with your mental health or suicidal thoughts.
Get the whole family involved in things like healthy eating, exercise, yoga and mindfulness. The togetherness, and the skills and benefits from these practices will help bring the whole family together. These can also teach everyone coping methods for times of poor mental health.
“Don’t be afraid or embarrassed of getting help to better your mental state, there is loads of support out there, and early intervention is key,” suggests Marguerite. “It is important to remember that depression or suicidal thoughts can effect anyone. We see a lot of people come through our doors who are struggling with normal life events, finances, work, grief, it is not necessarily people with troubled backgrounds. There is no social divide in mental illness, it can affect anyone, and it is important to seek help when it does occur.”
Sticking to routines and regular everyday tasks can sometimes feel impossible – so don’t beat yourself up over slip-ups in organised routines. Simply try again. Write down a list or timetable of your family’s routine, and leave it on the fridge, so that your partner, a close friend or a trusted family member offering support can help you in those routines if the need arises.
Reduce responsibilities down to only the absolutely necessary if you are unable to keep up, and find alternative and time saving ways of going about daily or weekly necessities like cooking and shopping. Again don’t be afraid of asking for help if you need it.
4. Family needs
Keep an eye on your children’s mental wellbeing, and ask others you trust to keep an eye out for changes in their behaviour. Ask them about how they feel, and reassure them that they can talk to you about the things that may be bothering them.
“Show your children that things like this can happen, and teach them through your own actions that it is possible to get through it,” says Marguerite.
Reassure your children that they are not the cause of how you feel, and even though sometimes you might act differently around them, let them know that they can come to you with any questions they may have.
Take the time out to let your children, partner, family and friends know that you appreciate their support and care for you during your low periods. And spend time with them when you are having a good episode.
“Talk honestly and openly about your mental health with your children, in an age appropriate manner,” says Marguerite. Do this in a way that will not scare them, but that will also inform them about mental health and how to take care of it.
Communicate honestly with your other family members and your partner, and help them offer support by making them aware of your feelings and needs.
If you, or a family member are suffering from mental illness, or suicidal ideation please contact one of the following helplines:
World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) is an awareness day observed on 10 September every year, in order to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides, with various activities around the world.
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Look after your mental health
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