Monday, February 6, 2023

Mental Health Matters: Recognizing Warning Signs and Strategies to Combat Depression in Parents


By Rebecca Jones MBA, RN, BSN

Mental wellbeing has been a buzz topic especially since the start of the pandemic, but it has been a huge focus of mine since I was pregnant with my second child. My daughter was diagnosed with a bilateral cleft lip and palate when I was 24 weeks pregnant. I felt as if nothing could have prepared me for that moment. At the time of her diagnosis, I had no idea what our lives would look like from that moment on. After she was born, I knew she would be okay, but the fog of postpartum depression fell on me, and thus began my battle over my mental health. Through the years, I’ve learned in many ways (mostly the hard way, if I’m being honest) how to recognize red flags, aka “warning signs” of declining mental health and how to combat it.

Not only does it affect me, but my mental health affects my family and relationships as well. Working on my mental health is essential for my family’s well-being. Both mothers and fathers experience depression, and approximately 15.6 million children—1 in 5—live with a parent who is severely depressed. The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine determined that untreated parental depression could impede children’s health and development. Because of this, parents need to be aware of the signs of depression and how to treat it.

As the pandemic has shed light on the importance of mental health for everyone, here are some things to look out for if you feel as if you’re beginning to struggle and ways to combat those warning signs.

Red Flags

Poor sleep habits 

Appropriate sleep patterns can help the brain process emotional information. Too much sleeping or not getting enough sleep can be warning signs that your mental health is declining. Poor sleep can influence your moods and emotions, creating fatigue and exacerbating symptoms of depression.

Negative self-talk

Feelings of helplessness, guilt, worthlessness, and sadness; all these negative thoughts would linger in my mind until it was as if my own brain was shouting at me saying how much of an awful person I was. The longer these thoughts stick around, the more and more I begin to believe them. Noticing these thoughts is critical when it comes to recognizing your mental health status and when it’s time to take action.

Lack of concentration

I call this “fog brain”, where I am just going through the motions of my day without any emotions. I know if I’m feeling checked out then it’s time for me to start using some strategies to boost my mental health.


Not responding to those texts from your friends asking about scheduling a lunch date? Avoiding eye contact with the store cashier? Cancelling plans in favor of staying home? Stephen Ilardi, PhD, author of books including The Depression Cure and associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas says that social isolation can worsen depression and how we feel and amplify the brain’s stress response.

Coping Strategies

Maintain your health

Make sure you eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get enough sleep. Easier said than done when you’re a parent, right? But there is no doubt that these factors are the foundation of a healthy mental state. Make your physical health a priority! You cannot pour from an empty cup!


Not with your children. Okay, maybe with your children, but it must be something YOU enjoy doing too. Painting, puzzles, reading, exercise, you name it. Healthy coping strategies can be therapeutic and productive. The goal is to keep those negative thoughts away while you do something that you enjoy.

Be social

Make time for the people in your life who matter most to you! Whether it’s a lunch date, a night out, or a FaceTime after the kids are in bed, be sure to interact with a friend or loved one you don’t get to see every day. I like to keep up with this every few days, so I don’t feel isolated. Social interaction can help combat feelings of depression.

Let out your emotions

Then bring it back in. Have you ever noticed how you feel after a good cry? Let your body release how you’re feeling but give yourself a time limit. For example, “Okay, I’m really upset that my daughter has to have surgery again. I’ll let myself have a good cry for 5 minutes, and then I’ll go for a walk.” Tension in the body builds up and can snap at the wrong moments. This can create conflict and stress in your home and relationships. Being able to express those emotions in a safe and controlled way can help release that tension without creating consequences.

It's okay to ask for help

When the strategies don’t seem to work, looking for outside help can make a huge difference. Therapists and psychiatrists are a great resource who can help with strategies and medications, if needed, to help you be your best self.

Resources for help

Psychology Today is a great tool that can help you find therapists, doctors, and support groups. They also provide several articles for different mental health subjects, relationships, and personal growth. 

Your insurance website can help you find providers in your area that are in network.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is toll-free and available 24/7 for anyone suffering from a mental health crisis.

Call 911 or go to the closest Emergency Room if you’re having thoughts of suicide or harming others