Raising a family is a dream for many of us, but the picture-perfect image of a two-parent household is actually a lot less common than you might think.
In fact, there are about 2million single parents in the UK, which makes up nearly a quarter of families with dependent children.
If raising kids as part of a dynamic duo is difficult then going solo is a job which undoubtedly requires extra support, and this couldn’t be more important for single parents with depression.
Statistics suggest that about 68% of women and 57% of men with mental health problems are parents, and the most common mental health problems experienced during pregnancy and after birth are anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s not just women who are at risk either, with about 10% of all new fathers worldwide experiencing postnatal depression.
Single mothers are more likely to experience poor mental health than those with a partner, and the main causes associated with this are the financial hardships as well as a lack of social support.
Single mum Ellen agrees that money can be a major stressor and, even though she has a job, depression makes it hard it stay motivated.
‘I cant financially provide what I’d like to for my son,’ she says. ‘I had depression before I was a mum and it was a lot easier to cope with than it is now as a single working parent.
‘Some days just getting out of bed and making breakfast for my son feels like a huge challenge, so days where I have to work can be a massive challenge.
‘Then I have all the worries about money and the stress of being fired and no one else contributing to the household bills.
It’s often the little things that are most difficult, like having alone time or just going to the shops.
Single mum Kelly says ‘not being able to get out in the evenings’ is a common issue, along with the tiredness which comes with all the workload falling on one person.
‘I’m always feeling exhausted, isolated and emotionally drained, as doing it all yourself and not having a partner to back you up is difficult.’
Not surprisingly, feeling lonely can be a real problem.
Mum-of-two Amy says: ‘The main problem is isolation and loneliness, and that has a huge impact on self-worth and confidence.
‘You feel stigmatised and that you are a failure.
‘The main one for me was going through a break-up and mending a broken heart, while still trying to parent and pick up the pieces for my children.’
Amy explains that even having sick days for depression is an inconvenience for single parents liker her.
‘When you’re ill there is no-one else there, not even just for something simple like popping to the shop for some medicine, or someone to show you some love and care.’
Having time to take care of yourself is basically non-existent, so ‘being able to practice self-care or do anything to make you feel better is restricted’, as child-free time is hard to come by.
Amy tries to find ways to solve this problem by making self-care acts a matter of habit and importance.
‘My self-care to ensure I’m happy and healthy has to be built into my week as a part of my routine.’
Simply asking for help might seem obvious, but many single parents often feel shameful about feeling unable to cope.
Amy says: ‘It’s difficult for me to ask for support or help as I am so used to doing everything as a solo person.’
Often, single parents’ emotional needs aren’t being met and they need continued support to feel mentally able to function.
In response to this, Amy has set up a support group to tackle the isolation and stigma surrounding single parents well-being, in order to help others as well as herself.
‘I always reach out to the group and have made lifelong friends on there, who I make sure I share how I am feeling or ask for help from, she says. ‘We are in the same boat and they understand it feels positive and empowering.
Being a single parent is a struggle but she says there is help out there – we’ve just got to learn to ask for it.
‘It’s so important to remember that you are one person and can’t do it all,’ Amy adds. ‘You need support and need to reach out for that’
The first step should always be talking to someone you trust, as well as your GP who can provide you with professional advice and support groups in your area.
I asked Ellen what’s helped her the most and she said: ‘Medication. I wanted to speak to a therapist then I had to self-refer.
‘I am also lucky that my parents are supportive and help out where they can’
Kelly says talking to other single parents is a lifeline: a way to make friends and a safe space to talk.
‘I make a conscious effort to reach out and broaden my social network so that I have as much support as I can and to spend time with people in similar situations. That helps massively.
‘I go to mental health charities and counselling when I can find it too’
With friendly support, medical help and giving yourself a break now and again managing depression alongside the job of being a single parent is achievable.
There are still days when it all gets too much for Amy, but she’s not giving up: ‘Sometimes you would love a partner to swoop in and just do bath time or give you a hug.
‘But there is also a huge amount of love that I feel, from my children and from those around me.
‘It’s built something a little extra inside me.
‘That, I believe, is a positive thing.’
This piece by Fiona Thomas was first seen on ‘Metro’, 3 March 2018.