parenting through mental health

Parenting through mental health and suicidal ideation

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.

parenting through mental health

“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.

parenting through mental health

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.”

3. Routines

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.

parenting through mental health

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.

5. Communication

“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.

More like this:

When it’s not just ups and downs
Look after your mental health
Tips to help combat anxiety


Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….

fertility challenges

Fertility challenges

Trying for a baby can be a challenge for many people, but what if there are are added complications?


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.