Date last updated: 10 October 2019

Mental health advice for single parents

This page is an introduction for single parents to find out more about mental health, providing general advice on practicing self-care and focusing on wellbeing.

At Gingerbread we want single parent families to feel valued. We know that single parents face many challenges that can sometimes make it difficult to prioritise self-care, and may impact on their mental health. We believe that self-care isn’t an indulgence but a necessity that will help single parents to be the best that they can be for their families. The information on this page is designed to inspire and support single parents to practice self-care, develop strong coping strategies, and build confidence and resilience in managing their mental health.

If you would like more specialist information and advice about Mental Health we recommend visiting:

Ebony talks about managing her mental health as a single parent to three children.

Looking after your mental health

Our mental health is how well we think and feel, and how well we are able to cope with life’s ups and down. Some people also call it our ’emotional health’ or ‘well-being’. 

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and it is important for everyone to practice self-care. Just as there are good practices you can do to keep your body healthy, there are active things we can all do to help keep our minds healthy.

The New Economic Foundation recommends their Five Ways to Wellbeing which can help improve and maintain your mental health.


1. Connect with the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.

2. Be active. Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

3. Take notice. Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

4. Keep learning. Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.

5. Give. Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.


Resources for single parents

Here are some resources you can try to help look after your mental health.

Talk: You can talk with other single parents online using the Gingerbread forum to talk to other single parents or you could see if there is a Gingerbread group you can join in your area.

Read: try Mind’s tips for everyday living, covering everything from eating well to relaxation methods.

Listen and watch: there are lots of podcasts and videos which talk about mental health and how to manage it in your everyday life. Check out the Mental Health Foundation’s list of podcasts and videos.

Try an app: the NHS has a library of apps for your phone that are designed to help you manage your mental health from day to day.

Ask for help: If you have children under 5, your local Home Start may be able to arrange for a volunteer to come and help support you at home, or to connect you with local services.

Tips from single parents

Talk

Talk. To anyone and everyone. Talking really helps to alleviate and normalise how you're feeling. Our emotions are perfectly natural and we shouldn't feel ashamed of them.

Mum, 1 child, age 6

Keep busy

Keep busy, surround yourself with good positive people, and do something you love.

Mum, 2 children, age 13 and 15

Make small changes

Sit down and look at what's going right and what's going wrong in your life. Be brave, take control and make small changes.

Mum, 1 child, age 17

Focus on the good things

Focus on the good things, try not to let the negative thoughts bring you down and keep you down. Start with recognising you have a happy and healthy child and that is down to you, then build up from that with positive thoughts.

Mum, 1 child, age 2

Forgive yourself

Be forgiving towards yourself, and your children. When things don't go to plan - remember tomorrow is another day.

Mum, 1 child, age 5

Getting help

We know from many single parents who contact Gingerbread that staying mentally healthy can often be challenging because of the extra pressures of parenting on your own. You are not alone in this. Nearly two-thirds of people (65%) in the UK have experienced challenges with their mental health. Fortunately there is an increased recognition of the importance of mental health, and there are a variety of options available for support.

If you think you may be struggling with your mental health, it is important to get help, especially if you are:

  • worrying more than usual
  • finding it hard to enjoy your life
  • feeling overwhelmed or hopeless
  • having thoughts and feelings that are difficult to cope with
  • interested in finding further support or treatment.

Talk to someone

One of the first and most important steps in getting help is to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Many people find it makes them feel a lot better just being able to express themselves and share their thoughts with someone else. Talking to someone you trust can help you to order your thoughts, and can act as good practice for talking with other people you may have to discuss this with later. 

You might find it helpful to write down some of the things you want to say beforehand to help you in your conversation. Mind offer some more tips on how to handle the conversation.

If you don’t feel like speaking face-to-face, you could talk by text or online chat.  If you don’t feel like there is anyone you feel comfortable talking to, the Samaritans run a free 24-hour helpline where you can talk to someone confidentially.

Your GP

If you think you need help improving your mental health, a good place to start is by talking to your doctor (GP). Your GP is there to help you with your mental health as much as your physical health. You can watch this video to help you prepare for your appointment.

Your GP will ask you questions to help them understand what you have been experiencing and to give you a diagnosis. Do your best to be open and honest with your answers to these questions. 

Depending on your diagnosis, your GP may offer you:

  • Self-help resources, such as books and apps.
  • Talking therapy. This involves talking to a professional about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, as well as helping you to develop ways of coping. Therapy might be one-on-one or as part of a group.
  • Medication can help you with managing your symptoms but medication shouldn’t be the only thing you’re offered. Some people find it helpful to try talking therapy and medication at the same time.
  • Referral to a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist.
  • Referral to local support services that may be able to help.

Your doctor should also schedule regular appointments with you to see how you are doing.

If you find that waiting lists for therapies are long, you can try contacting charities or specialist organisations to see if they can connect you to services in your area. You can find a list of these on Mind’s website or by calling their helpline

Support services

There are a number of support services run by charities and other organisations to help people with their mental health. There are also many ways to help you find the right support services for you.

  • The Mind Infoline is a free helpline which can give you advice on a range of mental health issues and refer you to appropriate services in your area.
  • Hub of Hope is an online search tool for finding mental health services using your postcode.
  • If you have a diagnosed mental health condition, you can search for charities and services which specialise in providing support for you. Use Mind’s A to Z of mental health to find information which is relevant to your condition. Each information page has a link to useful contacts in the sidebar.

If you are finding things difficult and need someone to talk to, you can:

  • Call the Samaritans on 116 123. This is a free 24-hour helpline where you can talk to someone confidentially about how you are feeling.
  • Contact the Shout crisis line by texting SHOUT to 85258 to get fast emotional support to help you through a crisis. This is a free service available 24/7.
  • SANEline offers emotional support and information to anyone affected by mental illness. You can call them for free on 0300 304 7000 between 4.30pm – 10.30pm every day.
  • Hopeline provide support to young people under the age of 35 who are experiencing thoughts of suicide. You can call them for free on 0800 068 4141.

If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or committing suicide, you can get support by contacting any of the above services. Such thoughts are often part of a process, that can be made easier by talking about them.


Common issues for single parents

The information below discusses mental health issues that many single parents have told us they experience. Click on the boxes below to get more information on each topic.

Anxiety

Anxiety is when you feel nervous, tense, or worried about something that is going to happen or that you think could happen. This may be an emotional feeling of nervousness or being restless, but it may also have physical symptoms like shaking or feeling sick.

Most people will experience anxiety at times, especially if they are dealing with something stressful. However, if you frequently experience powerful or long-lasting anxiety, it can become a mental health condition, especially if you find the feelings difficult to control, or they begin to impact your ability to live your life as you wish. 

You can read more about anxiety and how to manage it on Mind’s website. The Mental Health Foundation has a free guide on how to overcome fear and anxiety.

Panic attacks

Some people who experience anxiety also suffer from panic attacks. This is when you have a sudden and intense feeling of anxiety, often with symptoms such as feeling dizzy, a racing heartbeat, or finding it difficult to breathe. Panic attacks are not dangerous but they are scary and very unpleasant.

If you suffer from panic attacks, you can use breathing exercises and other methods to help prevent them. For more information read the NHS advice on coping with panic attacks.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder which you can develop after having been involved in traumatic events. While commonly associated with people in the armed forces, many people experience PTSD for many different reasons, such as domestic violence, mental abuse, bereavement, or a difficult childbirth. 

Common symptoms of PTSD include reliving the experience as flashbacks or nightmares, as well as intense anxiety, trouble sleeping, or feeling numb. It is normal to experience these symptoms for a few weeks after a traumatic event, but if you experience them for more than a month after the event, you may be suffering from PTSD. You can see your GP for help with this, and they may refer you to a specialist.

Read more about PTSD on Mind’s website and on the NHS website.

Depression

Depression is a low mood or sadness that lasts for a long time and impacts on your everyday life. While most people have bad days when they feel down, depression is feeling constantly sad or withdrawn for many days or months. 

The symptoms can be varied, but depression can include:

  • Often feeling low
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy 
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Low self-esteem.

Depression can also have physical symptoms, like changes in appetite, feeling constantly tired, or troubled sleep. Many people with depression also experience anxiety.

You can read more about depression on Mind’s website and on the NHS website.

Loneliness

Loneliness can be both a symptom and a cause of poor mental health. Many single parents feel that they become lonely or feel isolated from other people, and that this impacts on their mental health and their everyday lives. 

Managing loneliness can be a real challenge. The best way to do this is to take small steps towards spending more time with people. Work at a pace you are comfortable with, and try to focus on achieving goals you think you can manage.

Here are a few suggestions for helping with loneliness.

Talk to someone: try to talk about how you feel to one person you trust. If it’s easier, you could do this online, by text, or over the phone.

Connect with people online: online communities give you a place to share your experiences and talk with other people going through the same thing. You can join the Gingerbread forum to talk to other single parents, or Elefriends, an online community where people talk about their mental health.

Get used to being around people: gain confidence by doing activities where you will be around people, but you don’t have to talk to them: e.g. a cafe, cinema, or gym.

Try meeting some new people: you could try joining a class, taking up a new hobby, or volunteering. It will be easier to get to know people through a regular shared activity. You could see if there is a Gingerbread group you can join in your area to meet other single parents.

Try a befriender service: befriender services put volunteers in touch with someone who is feeling lonely, either in person or over the telephone. You can use the Befriender Networks Directory to find a service in your area. You can filter by theme and select ‘lone parent families’ to get volunteers appropriate to you.

Read more about loneliness and how to manage it on Mind’s website.

Mental health while pregnant or after having a baby

Becoming pregnant and having a baby are huge events in a person’s life, and because of this, they can also have a big impact on your mental health. One in five women experience difficulties with their mental health during pregnancy or in the year after they give birth, including depression, anxiety, or PTSD from a difficult birth. Some people also experience eating problems during pregnancy. Many fathers also face difficulties with their mental health in the first year of having a child.

Many pregnant women and new mothers find it difficult to talk about this, but it is okay to ask for help if you need it – all parents need support at some point. If you are having a difficult time, try talking to a friend, your GP, or your midwife.You can read more about maternal mental health on Mind’s website. The Pandas Foundation provides support and advice to any parent struggling with their mental health during or after pregnancy.

Blurred background image - mostly grey with pinks, whites and blues

You might want to share your experiences and get support from friends or other single parents who have been through similar changes. Joining a group, like a Gingerbread friendship group or chatting to other single parents in our online forums can be helpful and supportive.