Communicating about mental health issues

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Dear Sheila

I separated from my partner (and mother to our five-year-old child) a few years ago. At the time of separation, things were far from amicable between us and agreeing on how to parent our child was really difficult. Things are starting to settle down and we are communicating much better about our child. However, my partner has long standing mental health issues and there are times when she is so unwell I worry it will affect her ability to care for our child. This is a huge concern for me as I do not want to undo all the good work we have put in to being able to communicate productively and I certainly don’t want her to think I feel she isn’t a good parent. However, she refuses to seek proper medical treatment and I am not willing to risk our child’s welfare. How do I approach this topic with her?

Ian, Greenwich

Dear Ian

Thank you for your letter. Firstly, well done to you both for improving the communication. I expect that has helped with things settling down for you all, especially your child.

You mention your child’s mother has long standing mental health issues, has she received a diagnosis? I ask, as there are often support groups for some mental health problems and they can be really helpful. I am wondering how you all managed this when you lived together and indeed after you separated. It might be there was an event that made these issues come more into focus?

I am glad you feel that your child’s mother is a good parent and that is what to focus on. Your child needs to have two loving, equally important parents in their life. If there is any hint that one parent feels the other one is falling short your child will pick this up and it will wobble them. There is also always a possibility that they might align themselves with the parent they perceive as weaker. Perhaps you could send a friendly e-mail to Mum asking for some help as you are struggling with her diagnosis or maybe mentioning some behaviours that your child has voiced concern about. Continue to reassure Mum that it is really important for your child to have two parents working together as a team and supporting each other to be as good a parent as they can be. I am guessing that she will need some reassurance that you feel she is part of that team.

After your separation was there a discussion about what to do if (for example) either of you became ill, had to relocate to the Orkney Islands, or had a life changing accident? If not, why don’t you suggest having one and perhaps one of the topics could be what would happen if one of you has a health problem which might be difficult for the co-parent/child to deal with. You should approach this in a supportive way to avoid harming the good foundations/communication that you both clearly have in place for your child.


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