How Single Moms Can Stave Off Mental Illness

Everyone knows that being a single mother is difficult. But did you know that single mothers are more at risk than married mothers for mental illness? Fortunately, help is often available to manage or mitigate these issues.

A recent study based on the Canadian Community Health Survey by Dr. John Cairney, associate professor of family medicine at McMaster University, revealed that the rate of mental illness (such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder) for single mothers was three times higher than that for married mothers.

This group’s higher rates of mental illness aren’t necessarily the result of being single. (Single mothers are, after all, a diverse group encompassing teens, divorced or never-married women and single professionals, so experiences vary.) Rather, the increased rates are a result of specific factors, including economic hardship, caregiver stress and lack of community support. But help is often available to manage or mitigate these issues.

Battling Poverty

In Canada, nearly half of all single mothers live close to, at, or below the poverty line, according to Cairney. Obviously, financial stress can easily lead to emotional distress. Cairney says change is needed at a policy level, but single moms also need individual solutions.

For some, the challenge is finding work that pays enough to support their family and cover child care, explains Cheryl Rolin-Gilman, advance practice nurse in the Women’s Program at the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. Returning to school to upgrade your education or complete a training program may be necessary to land a better-paying job. Those returning to school may want to check if their college or university offers scholarships for single mothers.

Good financial management also becomes key and Single Mother Resources has helpful information about how to get out of debt and budget your money and offers credit counselling.

Affordable housing can really help ease the pressure, as well. CoAbode is an organization that helps single mothers who want to share housing costs, housework and childcare to connect with one other.

Building a Support System

Being the only caregiver can create a great deal of strain. “When things aren’t going well at work and I get home and my son’s acting out or he’s upset about something, I have a partner who can help me out,” says Cairney. Single mothers don’t, so building a support system is a must.

Finding a babysitter will give single mothers some relief. Canadian Sitter has a database of qualified and educated babysitters available for hire. But for moms who can’t afford to hire help, swapping daycare responsibilities with neighbours or other single mothers who have kids is a great solution.

Friends and family members might also be willing to help with household chores. Maybe your brother is handy and could help with repairs around the house? If the kids are old enough, single moms might also ask them to be responsible for certain tasks (feeding a pet or setting the table, for example).

Finding Community

Unfortunately, community support isn’t always forthcoming. “If the [single mother] status comes about as the result of an unplanned pregnancy and you are in a community where a teen mom is [out of the norm], you may not get a lot of support,” Cairney explains.

A single-parent group can often provide emotional support and practical advice. There are online and in-person resources across the country. A few include:

Parents Without Partners, with chapters in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, provides mutual support and friendship as well as the exchange of parenting techniques. It also organizes parent-only and family activities.

The Edmonton Single Parents Meetup Group, with an online forum and in-person gatherings, gives single parents the opportunity to expand their social network and take part in activities with and without the kids.

Solo Flyers in Ottawa meets to discuss problems single parents face.

Even with these solutions, if you are a single mother, you may still need help, especially if you are experiencing mental illness. Counselling and support groups can certainly help. There are national, provincial and local resources available if you still need help.

Rolin-Gilman sums it up best when she says, “When women are provided with opportunities to be with other women who have similar experiences and discover where they can obtain financial support or find out what they need to return to school or work, they learn real ways of dealing with their stressors.”

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