How Seattle parents are coping with mental health struggles

Across the nation, there are clear signs many parents have struggled with their mental health in recent years. About 70% of all caregivers reported such mental health symptoms as anxiety or depression, according to findings released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2021. The agency also reported a strong connection between parents’ and their children’s mental health When parents experience such mental health symptoms as depression or anxiety, caring for their children may become more difficult, the agency reported.

In Washington, the 2021 Healthy Youth Survey found that 20% of 10th- and 12th-grade students had reported considering attempting suicide over the previous year, while 69% of 10th graders and 74% of 12th graders had reported feeling nervous or anxious in the previous two weeks.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. Call or text the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Additionally, Crisis Connections of King County operates a confidential, free, 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-4-CRISIS (1-866-427-4747).

dr Michele Bedard-Gilligan, a clinical psychologist and associate professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said she has noticed a topic recently among her patients who are parents involving heightened feelings about the world being less safe. They appear to feel more anxiety and fear about such things as their children going to school or even running errands, particularly following news coverage of school shootings and hate crimes in public places like grocery stores, and local media’s focus on crime in Seattle. One of her patients recently decided to homeschool her children because she no longer trusted the school system to keep them safe from gun violence and COVID.

Bedard-Gilligan recommended that parents struggling with safety fears take time to reflect on how many of their concerns are based more on facts than on emotion. She suggested parents consider how much of their fear is based on true experience, and think through the likelihood that the thing they fear will happen.

Natalie Serianni, whose two children are in first and fourth grade, said she remembered having to take one of them to school the day after the Robb Elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May.

“I’m freaking out on the inside and now I have to go to work,” she said. “There’s just not a lot of room or time to process some of those things.”

Serianni said it’s been helpful to write about these types of situations, take breaks when she needs them and simply be more honest with her friends and family about how she’s doing, especially when she’s struggling.

At Sound, which has over a dozen facilities across Western Washington, child and family clinicians reported seeing a 25% increase in parents and caregivers reaching out for mental health services since the pandemic arrived in the state.

Sound therapist West said she and her parent clients often discuss issues like concerns about their parenting skills, loss of employment, struggles with child care, feelings of loneliness and difficulty processing grief and loss.

Finding a therapist can be challenging in Washington. According to a 2018 Washington State Health Assessment report, the most recent available, there was 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 just become so overextended that it is hard,” said Bedard-Gilligan. “I will be the first to acknowledge that it’s incredibly hard to access mental health care right now.”

Often the biggest hurdle for parents is inside their own heads, said Alice Nichols, board president of mental health organization NAMI Washington.

“I think parents are worried about being judged,” she said. “And there is so much mother-blaming and parent-blaming in our culture, that a lot of times parents are afraid to share what’s really going on.”


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