The truth about parenting with a mental illness



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mental disorder, The truth about parenting with a mental illness
Parenting with a mental illness isn’t easy (Picture: Erin Aniker for

There’s no doubt about it: mental illness sucks.

And it’s even suckier when it starts to affect your children.

It’s something I know only too well as a mother of two with a diagnosis of recurrent depressive disorder – an illness that has seen me suicidal and hospitalised on more than one occasion.

My children, aged six and 11, have had their childhoods shaped by my illness.

They’ve seen me so unwell that I’ve been unable to get out of bed, let alone make their packed lunches or take them to school.

They’ve asked questions about the self-harm scars on my arms; scars that I’ve tried to pass off as cat scratches.

They’ve even had to visit me in a psychiatric hospital, rationed to an hour at a time and watched over by a mental health nurse.

One of the defining characteristics of depression is the guilt, and when you have kids, that guilt is multiplied a hundredfold.

I feel guilty about being unable to live up to my expectations as a mother. Guilty about the times I’ve been distant and disengaged. Guilty about those awkward hospital visiting hours.

mental disorder, The truth about parenting with a mental illness
(Picture: Mmuffin for

When I’m at the very bottom of the pit, all I can think is that I’m ruining their lives.

When I’ve been in crisis, overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts, people have told me to ‘think of the children.’

Those four little words, so well intended, make me ache inside.

The implication is that if I loved my children enough, I’d have no trouble overcoming the urge to end my life.

But when I’m unwell, I…