While parents often put aside their own concerns as they focus on the family, we do a better job at parenting with better mental health.

While parents often put aside their own concerns as they focus on the family, we do a better job at parenting with better mental health.

Mental health is a family affair: Support your family’s wellness – and your own

The last few years have been a challenge for everyone, especially parents balancing the needs of children in a global pandemic. For children and teens, there were health restrictions, home learning and time away from friends, not to mention the ongoing pressures of adolescence, the impacts of social media and sometimes scary headlines.

For parents, there’s the challenge of juggling it all, on top of the usual trials and tribulations families face – busy schedules, managing rising prices, connecting as a family, and squeezing in a little time for themselves!

What all this means, of course, is that no matter our age, it’s important to take steps to support our mental health and wellness, explains Dr. Adam Jonas, Snohomish district medical director and internal and hospital physician at Kaiser Permanente Everett Medical Center.

“The mental health of parents and children is intertwined,” he says. “And what we’ve seen in primary care is a big uptick in mental health challenges people are facing.”

And while parents often put aside their own concerns as they focus on the family, “we do a better job at parenting with better mental health.”

The implications for our physical health are also significant, whether it’s symptoms like headaches or insomnia, or the impact on chronic conditions. “You can’t have good overall health without having mental health,” Dr. Jonas notes.

However, people may not be aware that what they’re experiencing – sleeplessness, low energy, a change in eating habits, headaches – may actually be related to poor mental health. For others, the stigma that still surrounds mental health challenges can present a barrier to seeking care.

Take positive steps forward

Rather than waiting for more serious mental health symptoms to appear, primary care teams are taking a more proactive approach, and urge families to as well.

“We really want to encourage people to be aware about their mental health, to be more accepting and to seek support from their primary care team,” Dr. Jonas says, noting screening for mental health concerns among both adults and teens is common for Kaiser Permanente’s team.

Individuals can take an online mental health assessment, and access resources like the “Calm” and “myStrength” apps that have proven beneficial in supporting relaxation, sleep and focus, for example. “A lot of us use them ourselves,” Dr. Jonas says.

The Ginger app also offers immediate one-on-one support for coping with many common challenges — from stress and low mood to issues with work and relationships.

Kaiser Permanente’s integrated care team also ensures patients of all ages can find supportive resources while waiting for appointments with a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor, and can support habits vital to mental wellness, including good nutrition, exercise, relaxation and building connections with family, friends and community.

That’s true for younger family members, too.

“We have lots of tools to help kids manage better,” Dr. Jonas notes. “Part of well-visits for all ages of kids is to assess how they’re doing overall in their mental health,” such as social development, screen time, and changes in usual sleeping, eating or social habits.

With many ways to connect with your primary care team, including by phone, by video call or in person, the message when it comes to mental health – as in all wellness – is not to wait. “There are lots of ways to get in touch and to look after your health, so do seek help as soon as possible if there’s an issue, before it worsens,” Dr. Jonas says. “It’s a lot easier to help the earlier we see you.”

Learn more about Kaiser Permanente at kp.org/wa.

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