Personal Experience of Parenting with Mental Illness
Posted by
15th May 2014

For #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, SANE supporter Sarah Myles discusses how she approaches the topic of mental health with her children and why she is so vigilant at teaching them emotional intelligence and mindfulness.

As a parent with Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD, anxiety, dissociation issues and paranoia, my primary motivation to improve my mental health is my children. I seek to limit the effect of my mental illness on their childhoods, while attempting to prevent – insofar as possible – their own development of mental health issues. This is important to note because, for those that experience Borderline Personality Disorder, motivation to change is both vital, and difficult to maintain due to emotional dysregulation. While sustainable recovery and successful long-term management of the illness is entirely possible, it is a mammoth task, and without the right motivation can be difficult to undertake.

As part of my treatment for various mental health problems, I have had the benefit of both Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. As a result - having gained awareness of my own illness, triggers, behaviours and warning signs - I am vigilant about the same in my children. There is a proven hereditary element in many mental health problems, and so my main strategy is to teach and demonstrate emotional intelligence and mindfulness. This became particularly important when my eldest child began to exhibit overly anxious behaviours around the age of six – the same age I became aware of it in myself. Through fun games and activities, as well as open and honest discussion, I began to teach my children basic Cognitive Behaviour Techniques, to enable them to identify their emotional state and, crucially, rationalise.

This approach benefits our family in a number of ways. Firstly, in the long term, I hope that these techniques will be useful elements of their emotional toolkits as they get older - allowing them to move into adulthood with self-awareness and the ability to maintain good mental health. Secondly, by practising these skills together, the mental health of each of us is supported. Children grow and develop constantly, encountering new situations all the time. By regarding each new situation as an opportunity to apply what we have learned and practise our skills - rather than as something to be feared - the anxiety felt by everyone is greatly reduced, and we can move forward with a positive outlook.

Thirdly, by teaching my children about the importance of mindfulness, rationalisation and emotional intelligence, I am also teaching them about the fact that mental illness is a fact of life. Anybody can experience mental ill health, and having a general understanding of it better prepares them to deal with any stigma they may encounter, while not perpetuating it themselves.

That all sounds wonderful, but does it actually work? Well, since adopting this approach, both my children have become more positive – enjoying school, working hard, and attempting new experiences with a more open mind. They are both well-regarded by their peers, and can stop an anxiety spiral in its tracks – rationalising themselves back into a more mindful situation in a matter of minutes. They have an objective view of their respective mental and emotional health - which is something I cannot even claim to have at the age of 35.

That’s proof enough for me.  

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