We let them eat the last chicken nugget on our plate. We wear last year's shoes because they need new ones. We spend hours brushing down cowlicks and braiding little pigtails, and then 2.5 seconds on our own top bun. There are so many, many ways we put our children first, but the current news cycle is reminding parents that sometimes, the best thing we can do for our children is prioritize ourselves, and our own mental health.
The week began with the news that famed designer Kate Spade, mom to a 13-year-old daughter, had tragically died by suicide Tuesday. Now, word that renowned chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain—father to an 11-year-old daughter— has died in the same manner reminds the world that even those who seem to have everything are not immune to mental health crisis.
When it comes to our own mental health, parents can and should put ourselves first, say experts. A recent study out of the UK found about 15% of mothers and 8% of fathers show signs of depression during their children's formative years.
When we narrow our focus to new moms, depression makes an even bigger impact. In fact, prenatal depression is the most under-diagnosed pregnancy complication in the U.S. As many as 1 in 5 new moms in America suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (including depression), but recent survey by Maven, a digital clinic for women, reveals that more than half of new moms don't get mental health support during or after pregnancy.
New mothers (and fathers—dads can have postpartum depression, too) often struggle alone, sometimes for years, prioritizing everything else before their own mental health. Maven's survey suggests some moms feel they can't take time away from their parenting duties, while others feel the cost of therapy would be a burden to their family.
Other things take priority: Our children, our careers, our day-to-day struggles.
This is a tragedy, though, because when parents aren't able to prioritize their own mental health struggles, our children suffer.
Research indicates that there is a relationship between children's behavioral disorders and parents' mental health, and it makes sense. Parental depression can take many forms that impact our kids. When we don't put ourselves first and get help, we can have a hard time sticking to routines, we can become too tired to do the things we once loved, and, as a recent study on parental depression proves, we can overreact to little things.
Parents, we need to take care of ourselves. We need to put ourselves first. We need to get help when we need it even if we've got pigtails to braid and career goals to achieve and groceries to get and ballet lessons to drive to.
Sometimes, prioritizing our own health is what's best for our kids and our families.
In the wake of the recent suicides of high profile parents, there have been online comments accusing parents who die by suicide of being selfish. That's not the case. Typically, parents who've reached that level of depression truly believe their kids would be better off without them.
Which isn't true. Our kids need us. But when we don't prioritize our mental health, illness can convince us they don't. So we need to take time for ourselves, to book that doctor's appointment, see a therapist, and get help when we need it.
If you are struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.