Never a parent, I may be unqualified to write about parents having children who reflect despairingly and distressingly about why their children develop mental health problems, particularly during adolescence. Cyber-bullying is often blamed for engendering depression, anxiety and even eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, parents too easily abdicating responsibility for instilling self-belief, self-respect and resilience in their offspring.
Recently, the Federal Government announced a $50 million cash injection to boost services for those with mental health issues as Australia’s suicide rate hit a 10-year high. Statistics quoted in an article in the Herald Sun in October 2018 included 3128 suicide deaths in Australia in 2017, an increase of 9.1 per cent on the previous year. Suicide is the leading cause of death in children aged 5 to 17. This is obviously disturbing, but what role do parents play in this reality? The article reported that more than three-quarters of mental health problems start before the age of 25 with new research revealing a week before the government’s funding boost announcement that a third of young Australians experience severe psychological distress, triple that of a decade ago. More young women- 38 per cent- report distress than men- 26 per cent.
Just a couple of months ago, the Herald Sun reported a women’s health survey of mothers, 15,000 women nationally, that found more than half of them were anxious and depressed with scant time to sleep well, eat healthy food and look after themselves. Mothering was co-joined by working outside the home, with the women feeling they were run off their feet. I suggest if mothers are feeling anxious and depressed how realistic is it to expect their children to not feel similarly. How can these mothers provide the support, care and attention their young children need if they’re unwell?
It seems that having it all- the career, the family and the supposedly good marriage, is pursued by most people without any realistic appreciation or understanding of what having children entails. Fairytale delusions seem to dominate suburbia, perhaps unconsciously, where the delusions soon degenerate into depression. Media reports detail ad nauseum the majority of women continually bemoaning they do most of the housework, the cooking and have the main responsibility for childcare, despite outside work pressures and demands. Seemingly, parents have little resilience and inadequate coping strategies so what realistic opportunity is there for their kids being resilient?
The lack of emotional resilience in young people hits the headlines more and more frequently without anyone seemingly acknowledging that possibly, parents are having children before they’re mature and resilient themselves. Blaming external factors seems a convenient excuse to deflect personal responsibility, and at the same time, mental health professionals do not criticise families probably because that would be tantamount to undermining the foundation of society. The family reigns sacrosanct however dysfuntional or deluded. It’s far less complex and problematic, if not easier, to look outside the home. Furthermore, with domestic violence increasingly affecting many families, what impact does that have on children? Indeed, are the parents already embroiled in violence before they have children, naively hoping having children may appease the violence. Another article in the Herald Sun in October about disciplining children reported “many struggle over discipline” with one mum of a boy and girl aged 7 and 4 respectively, realising the two children were yelling at each other “in the way my husband and I had yelled at them.” The mum told her husband: “We really need to not resort to yelling.” And more to the point is yelling what? Psychological abuse or simply a loss of temper and are they one and the same? Research from the Royal Children’s Hospital of 2044 parents with 3545 children found one in four parents experienced an “undercurrent of stress” trying to cope with their children’s behaviour. Half said they become impatient too quickly. They are “a little bit like an explosive device ready to detonate at any moment”, the director of the hospital’s national health poll, Dr Anthea Rhodes said. They’re struggling to cope and need more support. So why are they having children apparently without thought or scant understanding of their own lack of coping strategies? Are they deluded that children will always be well-behaved, obedient and accepting of parental rule? How much do they realise about what’s involved in being a parent? Furthermore, kids do mimic parental behaviour as the mum witnessing her kids yelling attests, so what are the mental health consequences for children if parents can’t cope? Mental health problems as they age seem to be some of them. As I’ve written before, emotional violence in the home can have more devastating consequences for their children than a black eye.
Furthermore, it was announced two days ago that about four million Australians cannot afford to put food on the family table, so what impact does money stress have on the kids? Let alone that they’re not being well and healthily nourished. The obesity stats reveal it all – two-thirds of adults and one third of young people are now classed as obese and in the context of research linking diet to mental well-being it’s hardly surprising both young and old are unwell.
Is it that people are having kids as a natural disposition and right without question, reflection or consideration as to how realistic it is? Moreover, parents without any obvious financial problems can so over-indulge their children with all the latest technological fads as well as spoiling them in all sorts of other ways and also being over-protective, helicopter parents, so at the slightest problem, disappointment or failure, the kids spiral into anxiety and depression. They’re simply not being trained or prepared for life by parents, with or without money, because the parents aren’t prepared either.
We can laud all the education in schools, in social and sporting clubs and all sorts of role models, but the home is the most important and influential factor in young people’s lives. Not only are women seemingly trapped in their mother and home-making roles, it has been researched and reported that more single women are opting to have a child on their own, only exacerbating the pressures and demands in their roles as mothers. Be it a gay man, a sperm donor, a one-night stand or even with a male friend they are not interested in for love, togetherness and shared interests, women want to have a child and a partner is superfluous. If it’s hard to raise a child for two people, the stress of being on your own must be magnified.
I was oft accused of being selfish for not wanting to have kids when I was younger and yet, isn’t having kids selfish as one does it for oneself as the “kid” has no say in it. That is, they don’t ask to be born. Likewise I can be accused that I don’t know what I’m talking about never having had a child, but I’m only putting the research together and it’s a dismal picture for both parents and children. Perhaps the pertinent point is that women and men too, are blind, ignorant or incredibly naive about the responsibilities, rigors and routines demanded by having kids, giving birth celebrated as a new life in whatever circumstances.
Frankly, while I never ruled out having kids totally in my 20s, by 35 when I had my tubes tied, I knew it was the right thing for me. I’ve never regretted it and am now thankful I never had much of a “supposed” maternal instinct and craved motherhood as my destiny. I can only hope young people with mental health issues face reality themselves as they age and don’t want to have kids for the sake of social approval or even more tragic, having someone to love them when they are unable to love themselves first and foremost. The number of women I read about with children who now recognise the importance of self-love is also sad, as how did they think they could “love” a child if they didn’t love themselves.
Furthermore, the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, has announced if re-elected on November 24, 2018 he will hold a Royal Commission into Mental Health, with an editorial in the Herald Sun on 26 October reporting that five Victorian children aged under 12 a week are now being treated by paramedics for suicidal behaviour, self-harm and serious mental illness. What role do parents play in that tragic scenario? Is it bullying in the young years at school or maybe it’s psychological violence and abuse at home? If parents are indeed “yelling” at their young kids, are the kids internalising abuse into feeling worthless? I do believe the incidence of family violence and mental health are inextricably linked; my own experience at home attesting to that reality and if children under 12 are now mentally unwell, surely their home environs plays a big role. Yet, apparently a former Australian of the Year, psychiatrist Dr Patrick McGorry is to head the government royal commission, but in 2013 I heard him on ABC 24 program One Plus One, after he won the award, claim that families are so stressed when their kids are mentally unwell without even acknowledging any role they might play in contributing to it. Moreover, he denied Australia was a pill-popping nations when 12 million prescriptions for anti-depressants are written a year. And that fact is now 12 years old. How many and for whom are they written now? And how are these kids eating? What are they eating? How much physical activity are they engaged in? The links between food, exercise and mental health are being broadcast in the media more and more yet what notice is taken of them by parents who can’t even look after themselves?
As well, an Andrews election pledge is to spend $51.2 million for mental health workers to be sent into every Victorian state secondary school with estimates that one in seven Victorians between the ages of four and 17 has a mental health issue. Yet, my experience also attests to the reality that many mental health professionals, counsellors, youth workers and psychologists, have their own mental health problems which they project onto clients. Once again, it will be left to schools to pick up the problems too often engendered at home.
It seems no one is actually highlighting that families can and do create mental health problems for children because it is too fraught with unresolvable issues one of which is to dare to contend that some people just should not have children, at least until they learn to love and care for themselves first. Personally, I know several women on anti-depressants and valium who became pregnant and women who then needed them when they had children. But no one it seems is even looking at that reality and the consequences of that reality.
There might be more to add later.