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September 4, 2020

Supporting Parents’ Mental Health: An Absolutely Important Action

By Tara Payor, Ph.D.

I always avoid absolute statements. Never have I ever met a parent whose emotional wellbeing hasn’t been impacted by COVID-19. Since March, parents have had one or more sidekicks. After accounting for the sweet stuff (all those family game nights), acknowledging strains on parents’ mental health is essential. Stigma shouldn’t roadblock parents’ vocalizing of mental health needs.


Prose & Company

Natassja Prose, a mom-blogger, keeps company with her two sons (Jack, 9; Max, 6) and husband. She’s in a better place than earlier in quarantine: “Spring was difficult. Seclusion was overwhelming.” With an active family, Prose felt barriers to wellbeing when face-to-face interactions were ruled out. Coming up with alternative plans, when feeling defeated, was hard. Seeing kids’ lives turned upside down and feeling helpless was heavy. “Being home more meant increased access to multiple media and that increased fear. Now, I know what to shut down. I’ve also learned when to reach out.”

She’s broached conversations about mental health needs with the boys. “I share my brain is overloaded and needs quiet. They’ve proven helpful.” Realism has helped. “They’re old enough to make good choices. We can’t live in fear, and they’re not going around licking handrails. In my mind and heart I feel that, if we get sick, we’ll be okay. For overall wellbeing, I can’t remain quarantined.” A small social circle helps manage risks.

“When the boys are happy and healthy, I thrive.” In order for the interconnected system to flourish, Prose needs alone time—rare since March. Running and bicycling have helped: “My husband also encourages solo-errand-running.” Sometimes, alone, one can better think through tough stuff and tinker with potential plans.

Worries about education, healthcare, the economy and missed celebrations persist, but so does Prose’s resilience. “We have things to look forward to. I see the light of day again.”

mental health
The Prose family visited Georgia’s Barnsley Resort in July. The resort offered family fun while adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols.

Fit Mind & Body

Ashley Miller, a girl mom (Dylan, 6; Emily, 4; Taylor, 2), wife and fitness coach, encourages seeking help from a licensed mental health counselor.

“I compare this time to my experience with postpartum depression; I felt embarrassed, like I was failing,” Miller says. “Pandemic life makes many of us feel those.” Though intentional in being positive, Miller admits to sometimes feeling defeated by 9 a.m. “It’s like having the wind sucked out of my sails. I try to train, but the girls are hanging on me.”

Counseling has taught Miller to recognize her triggers and respond calmly. “If I don’t slow down, do something helpful, and take care of myself, who will pick up the pieces?” Support systems are musts, too, and Miller’s husband is instrumental in getting her brain off the hamster wheel. She’s also found solace getting to know neighbors she otherwise wouldn’t have: “Stuck at home, our kids would play outside and it’s been a silver lining.”

Nothing replaces professional help. “Finding a therapist is like dating. Parents need to consider their own needs and personalities before committing to one.” Lack of decompression time has affected Miller, but counseling has taught her to sit with and breathe through feelings. “With the kids home so much, I step away for a few minutes if I need to.” Exercise is her stress reliever of choice. “It makes me a better person. While I can’t always do it alone now, I find peace knowing I’m modeling that mommy works to take care of herself.” It’s not rare for Ashley’s mind to race with COVID related worries, especially as the girls start school again, but she’s making choices helpful in supporting her family’s wellbeing.

Millers husband is a local fisherman, so Ashley and the girls frequently find respite on the water.

Tips from Board Certified Psychiatrist, Dr. Megan Toufexis

  • Kids are watching parents’ response cues. Attend to physical, mental and emotional health in accessible ways.
  • Remind yourself, “I’m doing the best I can in this
  • Isolation has created loss of connectedness, and unpredictability has resulted in anxiety. Form a support network comprised of people whose protective measures you’re comfortable with.
  • Ask for help.
  • Mental health services from psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists are available via telehealth.
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