Working mum Helen Dallimore is Labour’s 2021 Devon County Council candidate for Wearside and Topsham
Children’s mental health week came at a particularly pertinent time this year with schools being shut for many, exams cancelled, and social contact restricted. Many people are struggling with pandemic fatigue and the restrictions of lockdown are affecting all of our mental health in different ways: as we say “we are all facing storm but in very different boats”. However, studies show that some groups, like young people and women, have been hardest hit.
As a working mum currently home-schooling 2 young children, I worry about the impact on them and whether I am equipped to help them practically, academically, but most of all emotionally. I have seen heightened emotions: anger, anxiety, frustration and low mood to name just a few. While our bubble has also had moments of real happiness during lockdown and I feel grateful for the extra time we have together, the day to day reality day is hard. The urge as a parent to fix this is huge but I know I can’t and I don’t have all the answers. Do any of us?
On my fridge I have a copy of the Early Health 4 Mental Health “10 a day” things we need to do to look after ourselves: talking about feelings, doing something you are good at, keeping hydrated, eating well, keeping active in mind and body, taking a break, staying connected, being proud of yourself, caring for others and asking for help. But while I try and do this for my kids I rarely check these off for myself. Running training sessions for organisations to help working parents has made me reflect on this. As care givers we need to put our own oxygen masks on first so we can support those we are caring for.
There is lots of information out there if you know where to look but sometimes that can add to the feeling of being totally overwhelmed. Thankfully I was recently told about the fantastic CIC Parental Minds run by Sarah-Lou Glover. It is based in Honiton but has a wide reach and also covers East Devon and Exeter. Sarah-Lou describes it as the “Tourist Information office for mental health” which sums it up really well. She uses her valuable insight and lived experience to signpost people to resources, and leads a free parent + support hub: a network to provide digestible information on mental health and emotional, educational and financial guidance, and support for parents. They are also offering counselling services.
After a long day juggling work, campaigning for the county council elections (I’m a Labour candidate in Topsham and Wearside) and home-schooling I joined my first meeting feeling overwhelmed, wondering if I really needed another Zoom call. What I found, though, was a warm welcome, a wealth of insight and inspiration, and an opportunity to share experiences with a diverse group of parents. The session was about letting emotions out and I have already put some of the tips into practice, dancing with the kids and throwing ice at an outside wall together to release our pent-up emotions when it all got too much!
On reflection, I ticked off many of the New Economics Foundation’s five ways to well-being on that call with Parental Minds: we all gave each other support; we noticed our emotions; our brains were active and we connected. Most of all I learned so much.
The website has just been launched and I can strongly recommend taking a look if you could do with some valuable guidance and support with parenting at any point.
Whilst Sarah-Lou currently runs the Parent + support hub as a free service with a team of volunteers and professionals, as with many community projects, funding is needed to make sure it is sustainable and she relies on donations and grants. Even before Covid-19, mental health services were stretched. With the increasing pressure and demand – can we Devon really afford not to invest in these services?