This story is part of Amy Bell’s Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition.

Parenting can be one of the greatest joys of a person’s life — but it can also be one of the toughest challenges they will ever face.

If a parent is dealing with mental health issues such as postpartum depression or anxiety, it can be a truly heart-breaking time for a family. You are expected to feel joy and connection to your kids and anything less feels like a failure to society and to your own family. 

Parenting can be monotonous, isolating and not at all what we expected.

Dr. Michal Regev is a registered psychologist, and a marriage and family therapist who has worked extensively with people experiencing depression both during and after pregnancy, and with families affected by mental health issues.

‘Alone with their kids’

Regev says mothers more often struggle to cope with poor mental health. 

“Women are three times more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and mental health issues than men. And so you have to ask yourself, why?

“The obvious answer is hormones, the less obvious answer is our society and the place of women in society.” 

Of course, that’s not to minimize the mental health struggles that all parents and caregivers may face — but the numbers are clear, and those who give birth and or identify as female are more likely to face these issues. Regev said the supports available to parents have been reduced.

“We used to live in extended families and extended communities and everyone was taking care of kids,” said Regev.

“Now the situation is that moms are mostly alone with their kids. And it’s not good for our mental health. And we need to be aware of that, so that isolation and loneliness — which are a big part of depression — are eradicated.”

Tough to acknowledge you’re struggling

Sera Craigen Ecsy has dealt with her own mental struggles as a single mother to her now teen daughter. Her parenting was affected by her experience growing up with a mother whose mental illness eventually led to her death from suicide. This affected Craigen Ecsy both as a child and as a mother. 

“It gave me insight as to what helped me as a child and what supported me. And then it also gave me the view of how a child could be affected by a parent who is struggling,” says Craigen Ecsy. “I’m not saying I ever dealt with it the best way, but I feel like it helped me to know how to best support my child who might be experiencing me struggling.”

Craigen Etsy said she has not tried to shield her child from her bouts of depression and anxiety. She wants her daughter to grow up knowing mental health is a personal priority, and that getting help benefits the entire family. 

“It’s tough to acknowledge as a parent [you’re] struggling,” said Craigen Ecsy. “And not being ashamed to admit that you are struggling or getting support, taking care of yourself and putting yourself first.”

Fathers’ feelings

While mothers are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety, fathers can also be affected by mental health issues as they face their own societal pressures and expectations.

Matt Seats has dealt with depression for much of his life — which was rarely discussed in his own family or properly treated. He said it was confusing at times for his family, and also affected his four children. 

Seats did receive treatment and said that by being open with his emotional health, he’s a more present parent.

He was also able to recognize that one of his sons was struggling with depression and help him by sharing his own experiences.

“I could recognize the telltale signs. He would isolate, keep to himself in the dark,” said Seats.

He said by sharing with each other the two have gotten closer and supported one another.

“I think it’s really helped him for me to identify with him and be like, ‘look, I was dealing with this when I was your age. I’ve been dealing with this most my life.’ Just hearing that I think has helped him.” 

Check in

There can be shame and embarrassment that prevents parents and caregivers from admitting they need help. We really need to work at being more proactive.

That means not putting the responsibility on people to reach out when they are struggling. Sometimes that takes more strength than they have. So please, reach out to the parents in your life and truly check in — and then support them in any way you can. Parenthood can be one of the loneliest times in a person’s life, and acknowledging that is OK.

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