Mental Health Awareness Month Series: Co-Parenting and Mental Health – PART-I

May 4th


Mental help for frustrated parents.

Imagine a world where you can discuss mental health openly, without judgment; a world where everyone proactively looks after their mental health in the same way that they get annual physicals, or wear sunscreen to protect their skin from the sun. This is a vision that inspires Mental Health Awareness Month, celebrated every year in May with the intent to educate and empower people across the globe. At Koh-Parenting, we believe in the importance of this cause and wish to do our part in supporting the mental well-being of co-parents in particular. With this in mind, we bring you a four-part series on the topic. In part I this week, we’ll shed light on the state of mental health among co-parents. Stay tuned for upcoming editions that will offer information and strategies for adults and children alike.

The Gist

Mental Health Awareness Month takes place every year in May. The theme varies annually, but the overall intent is the same: to raise awareness, decrease stigma, and empower people to take care of their mental health.

Statistics show that many Americans experience mental health issues, but only half receive treatment. Co-parents in particular may be especially vulnerable; separating from a romantic partner and subsequently navigating co- parenting can be stressful and can impact mental health.

Early identification is key to promoting better outcomes for people with mental health disorders or symptoms. Familiarize yourself with the signs and make a concerted effort to check in with yourself and others frequently.

A Rallying Cry for Better Mental Health Treatment

Mental Health Awareness Month was founded in 1949 due to the efforts of Clifford Whittingham Beers, a Connecticut man who was inspired to do so by his own experiences with mental health issues. Beers witnessed the ways the system was failing people in need of care and hoped to change society’s treatment of mental illness. Today, we continue to highlight this important cause throughout the month of May, each year with a new theme. Read More about Mental Health Awareness month

mental health problem needs help.

Why do we continue these efforts over 70 years later? The answer is simple: mental health is an important part of overall wellness that, when neglected, can lead to serious consequences. According to The National Council, 1 in 5 adults in the US experienced mental illness in 2020, and yet over half did not receive treatment. The average delay between when symptoms first occur and when they’re treated is 11 years! (Source). Untreated mental health issues can lead to or exacerbate other related disorders or maladaptive behaviors, such as substance use, eating disorders, and suicide.

The Covid Co-Factor

The elephant in the room when it comes to the current state of mental health is the global pandemic. Covid wreaked havoc not only on the physical well-being of people across the world but also on mental health. Many people dealt with anxiety, feelings of isolation and loneliness due to social distancing, grief over the death of loved ones, and other issues. In fact, according to a study in 2021, more than 50% of people surveyed noted the recent emergence of these symptoms. Furthermore, adults with a pre-existing mental health disorder are also considered more vulnerable to the illness and their mortality rate when infected is higher than the general population. (You can read more about this study and mental health during the pandemic.)

Virtual therapy was a lifeline for some, but for others, it was not as effective as in-person treatment. While the prevalence of the virus has decreased dramatically and restrictions on our lives have been lifted, the long-term effects on our mental health remain to be seen.

The Connection between Co-Parenting and Mental Health

We’ve established that mental health issues are highly prevalent in American adults, but what about the co-parent population? Being a co-parent in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll struggle with your mental wellness. However, it can make you more vulnerable, especially when you’re newly divorced/separated and/or if you experience ongoing conflict in your relationship with your parenting partner.

Read on for the details:
  • People who experience mental health issues, whether in the form of a diagnosed disorder or more generalized symptoms like depression and anxiety, may struggle more in relationships in general. This may contribute to the likelihood of separation from a partner, and it may make any separation harder. According to a multinational study, mental health disorders may increase the divorce rate by 20 to 80%! Read more about the correlation between mental health disorders and divorce.
  • Research shows that divorced people report higher rates of physical and mental health issues, stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation. (Source)
Parenting is hard work!

It brings great joy but also comes with many challenges and these challenges can take their toll on anyone’s mental health. Separated or divorced parents may also spend more time in the role of sole caregiver, as they divide their custody time. This can create additional stress in so many ways (financial, career-wise, emotional, social, etc.) and may cause feelings of isolation. In addition, lack of respite can impact mental well-being and can also make it harder for co-parents in need of support to access treatment.

keep kids healthy mentally and physically
  • Children may demonstrate additional behavioral issues in response to divorce/separation. The emotional experience of dealing with these behavioral issues can in turn lead to mental health- related symptoms in co-parents.
  • Separating from a romantic partner is a traumatic event and can take time to process. People often grieve their break-ups as if they were a death, not only the death of the relationship with their former partners but in some cases the death of their family dynamic as it was before. In some cases, custody agreements may change the amount of contact with their child, which can feel like yet another loss for parents to deal with. Many co-parents display symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and anger. These symptoms may vary in severity and duration. Learn more about divorce’s impact on mental health.

It’s important to note that many variables can factor into the mental health of co-parents, and every person’s experience is unique. Research on this population is limited. What we can conclude without a doubt though is that co- parenting can be stressful, and stress affects mental health.

Know the Signs (for yourself, and for others!)

Early intervention is key when it comes to mental health. Ideally, we would take care of our mental health proactively, in the same way we tend to our physical health. This helps to build our resilience as we weather the ups and downs of everyday life. And in the event that challenges occur, we need to recognize them quickly and act promptly.

Psychologist talking session to depressed kid to comfort him.
  • Physical aches or pains without known physical cause
  • Weight changes
  • Persistent low mood
  • Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks
  • Racing thoughts
  • Mood swings
  • Changes to sleep and eating habits
  • Recurrent negative thoughts (about self, other people, things)
  • Repeatedly speaking negatively about self, others, things
  • Brain fog, issues with memory
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Withdrawal (from contact with others, from conversation; not being responsive when asked how he/she is doing; refraining from sharing about his/her life)
  • Flat affect (seeming unemotional, lacking excitement or enthusiasm)

Separated or divorced parents can experience any of the above symptoms. You may also notice these additional signs that are more directly related to co- parenting:

  • Difficulty following custody schedules or parenting agreement
  • Tendency to argue more frequently, or rehashing past conflicts
  • Irritated behavior at pick-ups, drop-offs
  • Nit-picking, more frequent questioning of the other parent
  • Changes in frequency and/or tone of contact
  • Changes in your child’s behavior or feedback from your child about the other parent
  • Easily frustrated, short, or harsh with your child
  • Isolating or withdrawing either from your child (for example, a noncustodial parent stops trying to check in or schedule time with your child) or with your child (parent who only spends time with your child and isolates them both from other people)
professional help

It’s easy enough to understand these symptoms on paper; however, recognizing them as they’re happening in real-time to ourselves or to those around us can be much more difficult. To do so requires mindfulness and frequent check-ins; it requires us to stop what we’re doing periodically and notice how we are feeling, and to ask about others, too.

In addition, you can access mental health screening toolsonline. Online quizzes cannot definitively diagnose anyone with a particular disorder, but they may be able to identify if the symptoms you’re experiencing require further assessment or support.

Note: If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide or threatening to harm oneself of others, take immediate action. Seek professional support immediately. You can also access the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. More Info.

Let’s Get the Conversation Started

Mental Health Awareness Month isn’t just about sharing facts and figures on mental health; it’s about generating an open dialogue about the topic and the way in which it impacts all of us. We encourage you to broach the subject by checking in with yourself and your loved ones. And here at Koh-Parenting, we aim to further the conversation by exploring mental health among co- parents; we know how important it is to acknowledge and support you and your well-being. Stay tuned as we keep the discussion going all month long; in part II next week, we’ll share strategies to support your mental health.


Still Struggling? Koh-Parenting Can Help!

Check out our learning guides that can help you on your co-parenting journey.

Koh-Parenting Learning Guides

By Koh-Parenting Services LLC


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