With World Mental Health Day, celebrated annually on 10 October, a lot of focus is placed on individual mental health. However, something that is less often discussed is the importance of mental health within families.
Children do not only rely on their parents or caregivers for basic survival elements such as food, clothing, shelter and protection, they also rely on them for more advanced social and personal skills. An important component of this is mental health and resilience.
Childhood mental health includes aspects such as reaching developmental and emotional milestones, developing healthy social skills, as well as learning how to cope with difficult situations and problems. Children who learn these skills are more likely to be emotionally resilient and to function well both at home and school.
The majority of a child’s healthy development depends on their parents or the caregivers who fulfil the role of parents.
Children’s mental health is connected to their parent’s mental health in a number of ways. Parents who struggle with their own mental health may have more difficulty providing care for their children than parents who do not have mental health problems. This is not to say that having a mental illness or struggling with stress or anxiety will make you a bad parent, but the symptoms of poor mental health can make the challenges of parenthood even more difficult, especially if the parent does not have a good support system in place.
Ultimately it is the responsibility of parents and family members to create the home and social environment in which the child will develop. If this environment is filled with stress, substance use, mental illness or abuse, the effect on the child’s development will be profoundly negative.
An ideal home environment should provide safe, nurturing and consistent care from parents or caregivers who are responsive to their children’s needs. Important aspects of creating a healthy home environment include maintaining daily routines, modelling appropriate behaviour and interactions, and adapting to children’s changing needs as they mature.
Another important aspect of family mental health relates to resilience, or the capacity to overcome difficult situations or challenges. Stable and supportive family relationships have a positive and protective effect on individual mental health, and it is easier for children to become resilient in the face of challenges if they have supportive family relationships.
One of the best ways in which parents can take care of their children’s mental health is by taking care of their own. Parents who are happy, physically and mentally healthy and emotionally present will be able to create a home environment in which their children feel safe and secure and are able to develop in a healthy way.
It is crucial that parents and caregivers prioritise their individual mental health and emotional well-being, as it is not just their own happiness and welfare that depends on it, but also that of their children. Building healthy and happy families starts with healthy parents, who have addressed their individual traumas and who actively work to be physically and emotionally healthy.