Supporting Mental Wellness Together: The Role of Occupational Therapists in Fostering Community Connection
Written by Marli Groenveld Occupational therapists (OTs) provide a unique perspective within the field of…
Mental Health Week commences on the 9th of October and the focus is “Mental Health Starts with Our Children”.
From the moment we are born we start developing our mental health and well being. I’ve been curious when speaking to people about the concept of infant mental health and interested that they have laughed. One response was “What can you do for a baby’s mental health?!… is that such a thing?” The profile of mental health has definitely expanded to include the infant, from the day they are born.
When an adult interacts and responds to a baby and later as children, they are assisting them to develop important skills like coping with a range of emotions and stressful events in the present moment as well as into the future. A baby is hard wired for social connection, they love interacting and being acknowledged. Eye contact, touch including skin to skin contact, smiling, talking at their face level, singing, talking, reading out aloud are all important for a child’s brain development. This all contributes to their mental health and better outcomes later in life.
Parenting is not without its challenges. It can be monotonous. It can be exhausting, both emotionally and physically. Understanding and attending to your baby’s needs can be daunting and at times scary. This new unknown road with your child is an ever changing journey as your child grows and develops. The mental health and well being of parents is essential to acknowledge and nurture.
A parent calls upon their own experience with their parents, there may be bits you want to emulate and repeat with raising your own children. There may be some aspects of your childhood you have learnt from and want to do very differently with your own family. Thinking about your own childhood may bring up unpleasant memories or possibly trauma.
It is not uncommon for some parents to focus all their attention on their child or children and forget to give some attention and focus to their relationship with their partner. They may also give little space and time for their own personal well being. Filling your own cup so that you have something in reserve to give others. A near empty cup has very little energy and resources to give to others. Positive relationships, self care and self nurture are all important ingredients to leading a fulfilling life as a mother and father.
We must not forget that life is challenging, our environments have their hurdles. We do the best we can in the context in which we are faced with. Being isolated from our family and friends, working from home or working FIFO, housing problems, financial problems, concerns for our health and our children’s health brings its own stress and anxieties.
If you are struggling with your load as a parent and not enjoying the ride you may want to think about seeking support. There are many resources designed to support parents with their mental health and well being as well as their parenting knowledge and skills.
Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) Helpline 1300 726 306 10am – 5.30pm www.panda.org.au
Ngala Helpline 1800 111 546 8am-8pm 7 days www.ngala.com.au
HealthDirect 1800 022 222 24 hours, 7 days www.healthdirect.gov.au
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 24 hours, 7 days www.kidshelpline.com.au
Raising Children Network www.raisingchildren.net.au The Australian Parenting Website
Raising Healthy Minds mobile phone app – Evidenced based information tailored to your child’s age
An Occupational Therapist will help you to reflect on how you are currently managing in all the different roles you have in life. We will help you identify where the current problems and difficulties lie and focus on your strengths and resilience. We can provide education and support with learning and practising new skills and strategies to make life easier and more enjoyable. It might help to improve your distress tolerance or learn ways to feel less anxious or balance your daily activities so that you view life more positively. We help people experiencing Post Natal Depression and Anxiety and other mental health symptoms associated with this life transition of parenthood. We can provide support with practical strategies centred to the individual, their baby or children and family unit within their environmental context.
Parenthood is an amazing, rewarding and nourishing journey. It might be that you would benefit from an external perspective to help see this yourself and feel empowered to nurture your own family’s path, riding out the lows and cherishing all the moments big and small of happiness, gratitude and love. Mental Health does start with children and the role of the parent has a special and privileged part to play. I am a firm believer that we must nurture the mamas and papas to nurture the babies!
If you would like professional support, please do not hesitate to contact our team to find out how one of our OTs can help.