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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Mental Wellness Parenting Program

Karin Rai, MA

Reprinted from the "Families" issue of Visions Journal, 2013, 8 (3), pp. 31-33

In the fall of 2011, the Centre’s Adult Mental Health Program organized a workshop for parents with a mental illness who had an interest in learning more about issues related to actively parenting with a mental illness. The presentation and ensuing discussion was coupled with feedback from parents who were using our adult mental health services, and from workers at our local Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) offices.

Some of the issues and concerns identified by parents and service providers included:

  • how much a parent should tell children about the parent’s mental illness, and how to tell children in a way that is appropriate and doesn’t provoke anxiety

  • children mimicking behaviours that are associated with a parent’s mental illness

  • preventative strategies to support parents’ own mental wellness and their families’ wellness

With this information, we were able to identify a specific gap in services: a service that would bring together a parenting program with a mental health education program.

Our Mental Health and our Parenting departments collaborated to develop the Mental Wellness Parenting sessions. Since October of 2011, we have been offering eight-week sessions, facilitated by one mental health facilitator and one parenting support facilitator. Free child-minding is provided.

The Mental Wellness Parenting program integrates cognitive-behavioural therapy with parenting support group components. This is a highly effective approach to building skills to lower depression, anxiety and isolation and boost wellness.

Our goals for the parents taking the program include:

  • learning about the physical and emotional symptoms of mental health concerns

  • understanding patterns of stress and how stress manifests in their parenting style and behaviour with their children

  • developing strategies for self-care

  • identifying early warning signs of not feeling well and developing preventative and coping strategies

  • learning strategies for communicating with family members about their mental illness

  • feeling less isolated by sharing and learning from other parents

Parents who took the group reported the following benefits:

  • no longer felt alone with their feelings; were glad to know that other people felt depressed and anxious while parenting

  • mothers with infant children shared that this was the first time they felt comfortable leaving their child in someone else’s care (and we observed that both the mothers and their children experienced less separation anxiety and increased trust with our child-minding staff over the course of the group)

  • increased success at setting and achieving realistic personal goals

  • new parenting skills

  • felt less isolated and more connected with resources in the community (several parents bridged to other programs at the Family Education and Support Centre)

  • felt less guilty about asking for help some reported wanting to repeat the Mental Wellness Parenting program

  • felt supported to work on their own mental wellness

  • felt more able to identify early warning signs of not feeling well

  • one mother realized the importance of seeing her doctor and resumed taking her medication

As facilitators of the Mental Wellness Parenting program, my colleague Jenny and I have observed that supporting parents with mental illness benefits the entire family unit. It improves parent/child relationships, personal relationships with partners, and relationships with extended family members.

Referrals for the program are accepted from a variety of sources, including health care professionals, MCFD, community agencies, friends, family and self.

For further information, call us at the Family Education and Support Centre at 604-467-6055 or visit

About the author
Karin is the Coordinator of the Adult Mental Health Program at the Family Education and Support Centre in Maple Ridge. She and her colleague Jenny Early, Coordinator of the Families Supporting Families program, are co-facilitators of the Mental Wellness Parenting Program

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