During the pandemic, Mental Ill Health has had much publicity. It is well known that relationships ending can be one of the most traumatic things that you will ever experience and the impact on your children has the potential for lifelong implications when not dealt with in a way that meets their needs.

The latest statistics from Mind show;

  • 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.
  • 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.

Not everybody will report or engage with supportive services when they feel like they are experiencing Mental Health difficulties, so it is likely that the statistics are much higher than reported. People may not report due to the stigma attached to the illness or judgement and some people may not be aware that they are unwell.

It is well known that parental separation is one of the most stressful experiences a person can go through. This may be due to the number of changes parents have to adapt to in a short space of time. The practicalities of separating may look like moving home, financial difficulties paying for solicitor’s fees, single-parent income or benefits for one parent. It is not uncommon for separating parents to engage in high conflict when they are amid emotional distress at a time of instability.

Many reasonable parents may act out of character when emotions such as loss, grief, anger and frustration take over. Some may say ‘it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel’. We should always remember that this is a very distressing time for all, the focus should always be the child or young person, how they are thinking and feeling, however, amid emotions, this can be difficult.

Mental Ill health can show up in many forms:

Separation can cause feelings of distress and trauma dependant on how the individual copes with their emotions. The end of a relationship feels like a grief or loss of a loved one and you may experience symptoms such as;

  • No focus/overthinking,
  • tightness in your chest or throat,
  • difficulty breathing,
  • feeling very tired and weak,
  • a lack of energy,
  • dry mouth,
  • an increase or decrease in appetite,
  • finding it hard to sleep, &
  • aches and pains.

It is often the case that parents need to release built up emotions and unfortunately this can lead to risky behaviours such as alcohol or drug abuse.

Some parents may feel powerless because it can seem like the resident person makes decisions about the child or young person without the consent of the other, very often this can also happen without the other parent even being aware, for example, something as simple as a hair cut or holiday can seem irrelevant to the parent that organises this, whilst causing heartbreak for the other. This may lead to aggression and unfamiliar behaviour such as verbal abuse, damaging property or physical violence. All the above could have very negative impacts on child contact going forwards.

So, what practical actions can parents take whilst dealing with mental ill-health whilst going through separation?

Children can manage separation well if parents, co-parent together but what if the other parent does not see the situation you do?

It is useful to have a tool kit to dip in and out of when emotions suddenly start to take over and overthinking may lead to irrational behaviours. It is worth noting that if you feel overwhelmed by the situation you are in you should consult your GP, or contact mental health helplines such as Mind, Samaritans or your local support service.

What can you do to change your negative thoughts?

  • Start simple, focus on your health. Take regular exercise, eat healthily and hydrate. It is easy to overeat, drink alcohol or engage in risk-taking activities when you are feeling low but none of these activities will make you feel better long term. The mental health benefits of exercise will help to release natural endorphins which in turn will help you become clear about your situation.
  • Write down 20-30 things that make you happy?
  • If you find yourself overthinking do something from your list to distract yourself, act! A child will be able to sense the anxiety and sadness of a parent it is important that you try to stay positive and focused.
  • Try to problem solve instead of reacting straight away to a situation. Remember a child does not need to see your emotions spill over they want to feel safe when in both parent’s care and any conflict may stay with them and affect the relationship you have with them.
  • Try to envisage what you would want your life to look like in the future and start to put plans in place to focus on. This could be a new hobby or job. Focusing on a new project will help to move your mindset. Self-care should be a priority when dealing with high levels of difficult emotions.
  • Walk away from a difficult conversation and message when your emotion has subsided. Engage with services such as mediators than can help your ex-partner and yourself move past difficult decisions.

Putting your child at the centre of every decision you make will assist with contact going forwards. There are many services available to support you through this challenging time.

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