Across the country, there are clear signs that many parents have struggled with their mental health in recent years. About 70 percent of all caregivers report mental health symptoms such as anxiety or depression, according to findings released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2021. The agency also reported a strong link between the mental health of parents and their children When parents experience such mental health symptoms as depression or anxiety, caring for their children can become more difficult, the agency reports.
In Washington, the 2021 Healthy Youth Survey found that 20 percent of 10th- and 12th-graders reported considering a suicide attempt in the previous year, while 69 percent of 10th-graders and 74 % of 12th grade students reported feeling nervous or anxious in the previous two weeks.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or having suicidal thoughts, help is available. Call or text the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Additionally, Crisis Connections of King County maintains a confidential, toll-free, 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-4-CRISIS (1-866-427-4747).
Dr. Michelle Bedard-Gilligan, a clinical psychologist and associate professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said she has recently noticed a theme among her patients who are parents, involving heightened feelings that the world is more a bit safe. They seem to feel more anxiety and fear about things like their children going to school or even running errands, especially after news coverage of school shootings and hate crimes in public places like grocery stores and the local media’s focus on crime in Seattle. One of her patients recently decided to homeschool her children because she no longer believed the school system would protect them from gun violence and COVID.
Bedard-Gilligan recommended that parents struggling with safety fears take time to consider how many of their fears are based more on facts than emotions. She suggested that parents consider how much of their fear is based on real experience and think about the likelihood that what they fear will happen.
Natalie Ceriani, whose two children are in first and fourth grade, said she remembers having to take one of them to school the day after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May.
“I’m going crazy inside and now I have to go to work,” she said. “There’s just not a lot of space or time to process some of these things.”
Ceriani said it’s been helpful to write about situations like this, take breaks when she needs them and just be more honest with her friends and family about how she’s doing, especially when she’s struggling.
In the Sound, which has more than a dozen facilities in Western Washington, child and family clinicians reported seeing a 25 percent increase in parents and caregivers seeking mental health services since the pandemic arrived in the state.
Sound therapist West said she and her parent clients often discuss issues such as concerns about their parenting skills, job loss, struggles with childcare, feelings of loneliness and difficulty coping with grief and loss.
Finding a therapist can be a challenge in Washington. According to a 2018 Washington State Health Assessment Report, the most recent available, there is one provider for every 360 people in the state.
“We were a system that was pretty stretched to the limit before [the pandemic], and then we’ve really become so overstretched that it’s hard,” Bedard-Gilligan said. “I’ll be the first to admit that it’s incredibly difficult to access mental health care right now.”
Often the biggest obstacle for parents is in their own heads, said Alice Nichols, president of the board of the mental health organization NAMI Washington.
“I think parents are worried about being sued,” she said. “And in our culture, there’s so much mother-blaming and parent-blaming that a lot of times parents are afraid to share what’s really going on.”