Written by Charmaine Eng

News like this is a worry for most parents. “Will my child develop mental health problems? What can I do about it? Will they tell me if something is going on?” We know that it is impossible to protect our children from every single thing, especially as they become teenagers and seek greater independence. But the good news is that as we become more willing to discuss mental health, we take down stigma and, as a community, can take steps to work together and support each other.

In the growing conversation about mental health, there are many online resources about what to do if your child has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Being aware of common symptoms and how they might manifest in children is useful, just like how we observe for physical illnesses. There are also things we can do as preventative measures. This is not just about a healthy lifestyle, although sleep, diet, and exercise do affect our mental health. It includes maintaining a good relationship with your child and being open to discuss difficult topics. This way, children will be more likely to view their parents as someone to go to in difficult times, as opposed to someone to avoid for fear of punishment, scolding, or criticism. Some useful websites are listed below.

One area that is often overlooked, and less frequently discussed, is parent wellbeing. In order to support our children, parents will benefit from looking after their own mental health. Many parents inadvertently forget to care for themselves when they are so busy with work and caring for their families. Too often this carries on only for parents to find burnout, exhaustion, and stress just around the corner. Looking after your own mental health can help improve coping with life’s challenges, and also provides a healthy model for children to follow. This includes being able to identify when you are stressed, having a good support network of your own, and not being afraid to ask for help (e.g. spouse, parents, friends, counselling etc.) Strength is not just about how much we can take on our own, but finding other ways and means to endure.

This might seem like a lot of work; there are many other challenges in life to deal with at the same time. Yet, the outcome is surely worth it. After all, we climb mountains with a series of small steps, not a leap. Once at the summit, we are met with a beautiful view and sense of accomplishment. You may find it helpful to identify some important areas where you would like to see change or improve, and set one or two realistic goals for yourself and your family to achieve change. It could be setting a regular schedule of quality time with your child, or getting the advice of a professional.

Useful links:
A good general guide that also covers preventive measures

What parents can do if your child has received a mental health diagnosis

Self-care for parents

Where to get help in Singapore

About the Author:
Charmaine holds a masters in clinical psychology from NUS. Most of her work has been with children and families in the community mental health setting. She has a special interest in mental health advocacy, and her favourite self-care activities include knitting and reading.”