I am sharing this piece written by an author at Special Learning Inc., because mental health is a topic I am very passionate about. Mental health struggles exist regularly in 1/4 people. Within the special needs mom community, I am certain it must be higher, as we face a lot of extra daily challenges. This is one of the main reasons I even thought of making this nonprofit. I wanted to provide moms, who are feeling very stressed, a time off. A time where they can feel a bit safe, a time when someone else can take on the majority of responsibility for her children. My goal was always to allow her to get both mental and physical rest and to give her time to take care of and refresh herself. In this way, we are much better mothers, when we are taken care of as well.
(This article is by an unknown author at Special Learning Inc. and can be viewed on their site here: https://www.special-learning.com/article/depression)
Note: This article should not be used to categorize oneself or to be viewed as a diagnostic tool. This article provides only general information and does not offer specifics on the criteria for diagnosing depression. This is written with the assumption that the person is not using any mood altering substance, including alcohol. Additional articles will focus on thought process and depression, dealing with grief/loss and managing depressive symptoms.
Many parents express times of loneliness, exhaustion and increased stress. It is not uncommon for all individuals to go through periods of sadness, adjustment or other difficulties. Periods of experiencing these types of emotions, especially during difficult times, do not necessarily signify clinical or even situational depression. Clinical depression is defined more as biologically based where symptoms would be present regardless of an individual’s circumstances or satisfaction with life. Situational depression tends to develop as a reaction to prolonged exposure to chronic stress, physical, emotional and/or environmental or significant life changes/losses and a person’s difficulty adjusting or handling life’s challenges…etc.
Parents of children with special needs tend to be faced with a continuous barrage of challenges from societal isolation, financial strain, difficulty finding resources to outright exhaustion or feelings of confusion or burn out. Over time, if these circumstances are not addressed and relief is not found a cognitive and, sometimes, biological change may start to take place. Chemicals in the brain such as Serotonin and Dopamine regulate our responses to pleasure, hurt and help us navigate our emotions/perceptions of the world around us begin to decrease as we chronically experience negative emotions and/or situations.
It’s also important to note that after prolonged decrease in these chemicals due to exposure to chronic emotional turmoil, stress and isolation, the brain may begin to permanently alter and actually begin to produce less and less of these chemicals. This means it will become harder and harder for an individual to bounce back or return to “normal functioning”. The longer we’re exposed to stress or negative emotions and thinking, the less able we become at coping with those feelings. What may have started out as merely occasional, typical reactions to overwhelming circumstances becomes a day to day struggle to function and handle life as it comes.
Symptoms of depression may not necessarily signify a diagnosis of depression, but it definitely should be a red flag. The most challenging step of helping parents of children with special needs deal with depression is first helping them recognize the signs of depression and identify their own symptoms. The second most challenging step is helping parents begin to change their behaviors and thought processes that are perpetuating the symptoms and may lead to actual depression. This article will focus mainly on understanding the general signs/symptoms of depression.
Part I Parents of children with special needs often present with the following generalized symptoms and life situations: Symptoms
Insomnia (not sleeping) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
Parents of children with special needs often have their sleep interrupted when/if their children are unable to sleep.
Parents of children with special needs may begin to sleep more during times when their children are not present or as a means to escape their feelings and stress
Fatigue or low energy
The day to day obstacles and/or routines of parents with special needs children can be exhausting and the constant anxiety can begin to wear on parents emotionally and physically.
Parents of children with special needs often feel inadequate as parents, frustrated because they are unable to handle their children’s behaviors or meet their needs on their own.
Parents sometimes feel responsible for their children’s diagnosis.
Parents tend to feel shame over their feelings and needs around their children’s disabilities
Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
Constant stress and overload may begin to cause distractibility, mild memory issues and poor concentration
Information overload or insignificant information may cause a parent to become uncertain and lead to inability to make sound choices
Feelings of hopelessness
Parents typically have to deal with various systems when attempting to find services for their children. Often parents are pulled in many directions and meet with many dead ends.
Sometimes feelings of grief include dealing with the loss of what one imagined parenthood to be, which can lead to dissatisfaction or difficulty coping with reality
Struggling with certain issues or behaviors for a very long time can result in parents doubting if change is possible for their children
Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and motivation…etc
Parents of children with special needs tend to focus all their attention of their children’s needs. They lose touch with themselves as individuals and do not or cannot make the time for themselves and their interest.
Parents sometimes feel guilty for pursuing interests outside of focusing on their children’s needs or taking time for themselves.
Poor appetite or Increased appetite
Stress affects people differently. Some people are unable to eat while others turn to food for comfort.
A parent of a child with significant needs and/or behaviors may have increased anxiety, worry or preoccupations that may affect his/her appetite of need to self sooth by using food or other substances.
Parents of children with special needs sometimes feel isolated from other parents, supports, family and/or the community
At times parents may feel some embarrassment surrounding their children’s behaviors or their inability to handle those behaviors in public so they keep themselves and their children secluded from the public
Parents sometimes have no interaction with adults outside of the home and/or immediate family.
Any time there is a change in life’s circumstances and/or individual’s expectations of their life, there is a grieving process on some scale.
Parents may feel the anger, denial, hurt…etc of grief, but may not acknowledge those feelings and, therefore, never move through those feelings in a healthy way.
Inability to process and deal with the different stages of grief may lead to discontent, lack of acceptance, frustration and unrealistic or even no expectations.
There is no way around it- it can be quite expensive to raise a child with special needs. Between the cost of treatments, services, therapies and medical expenses, many families accrue a great deal of deal.
Many families won’t qualify for assistance with the cost of care due to their income which is sometimes only barely above federal income guidelines.
Financial stress is already one of the main causes of marital discourse and can lead to feelings of hopelessness.
Lack of Support
Some parents have a sufficient support system while others do not. Some parents are raising their children solely on their own. Some do not have family or community support.
Lack of support can further the feelings of isolation and allow the parent to continue in his/her negative or unproductive thinking and behaviors.
Lack of Resources/Help
Parents aren’t always aware of the services that their children are entitled to and, therefore, struggle to meet their children’s needs.
Parents don’t always qualify for assistance with some resources due to income requirements, but those parents aren’t always able to obtain those services on their own.
Inability to access resources or lack of knowledge that there is help available can lead to increased worry, frustration, hopelessness, stress and sometimes desperation and impulsivity.
It is important to understand how these circumstances and responses can affect you and lead to further complications. It is important to seek help and support to help you work through these feelings and change dangerous behaviors. Often the shame and the symptoms themselves prevent parents for seeking the help they need. Remember, children are only as healthy as their parents.
******** (This article is by an unknown author at Special Learning Inc. and can be viewed on their site here: https://www.special-learning.com/article/depression)