When you’re a parent, you get used to putting your children first. It may even be easier to notice changes in their physical or mental health than your own.
However, parenting through depression is a very real experience. Because depression affects more than 19 million U.S. adults each year, a number of parents (especially new parents) may experience symptoms for the first time in parenthood.
If you think you might be experiencing depression, it’s best to talk with your doctor or mental health provider about the symptoms you’re noticing. Below, discover five actions you can take to help you parent through depression.
Name your feelings.
Parents often teach their kids to name their feelings when they first learn how to communicate with adults. This helpful practice can be good for parents, too.
First, it’s important to know the signs of depression.
Many different things can cause depression to occur. It can be triggered by a traumatic or stressful event, genetics, medications, or even a change in the seasons. It can also be triggered after the birth of a child, known as postpartum depression.
If you’re not feeling quite like yourself, try to make a list of your feelings. Being able to say how you’re feeling is an important first step to feeling like your best self again.
And if your “funk” lasts for more than two weeks, talk to a doctor or mental health professional. They can screen for depression and help find a treatment plan that’s right for you.
Examine your family’s routine.
Between virtual learning, play dates, and doctor’s appointments, it might seem like the only ‘me’ time you get is in the car after dropping your kids off at soccer practice.
Yes, it’s important to prioritize activities for your little ones; however, it’s also important to prioritize a healthy family routine for all members of the family — including you.
A balanced routine looks different for a family. One way to get started is to take a look at these important factors:
- Exercise: Are you incorporating time for movement when possible? Exercise has been linked to reduced symptoms of depression.
- Sleep habits: Is everyone in your family getting enough sleep? Most adults need 7-9 hours. And as kids grow, their sleep needs change.
- Work/life balance: Are you able to create healthy boundaries with your job so you can be present with your family while not at work?
- Self-care: Is there a window in your weekly or monthly schedule where you can carve out some “me” time to recharge?
Examining your family’s routine will help you identify areas of your life where you can make small changes to improve your mental health.
Get moving, even if just for a few minutes.
Physical activity and strong mental health go hand-in-hand. In fact, research shows that exercise can improve symptoms of mental health conditions and even prevent the development of additional health conditions.
Activity doesn’t have to look like training for a marathon or swimming laps before heading into the office. You can start small. Here are a few ideas you can try to get started:
- Take time to play outside with your children
- Go on a family walk after dinner
- Stretch in the morning or before bed
- Complete a five-minute yoga flow, or at-home workout video
- Download an app on your phone to track your steps and set a goal to get a certain number of steps each day
- Create a “family challenge” and get the whole family involved
Exercise can also help regulate sleep cycles and be a healthy part of any family member’s self-care routine. The benefits of physical activity are worth the time and effort to include in your family’s day-to-day life.
Have a conversation with your family.
A big part of maintaining strong mental health is creating space for open and honest communication with those closest to you.
For many people — especially parents — bringing up mental health with their family can feel challenging or awkward. But when appropriate, discussing mental health with your children can be an impactful way for you to share what’s going on with you and for them to have the chance to share what’s going on with them, too.
What you say matters, and creating a safe space for open dialogue can help normalize mental health conditions and reduce stigma. Here are some additional tips for talking about mental health.
Depression is a treatable mental health condition, and asking for help is a sign of strength.
Support looks different for everyone, but the most common treatment options for depression are therapy and medication. In addition to beginning treatment, consider asking for support from your partner, close friends, or family when you’re feeling down. They can help remind you that you have a whole community cheering you on.
Again, if you think you might be experiencing depression, talk with your doctor or mental health provider about the symptoms you’re noticing. They can help you figure out the best steps to get back on track with strong mental health.
If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health emergency, do not use this site. Instead, call 911 or use one of these emergency resources.