The Mental Health of Families That Have a Child With a Disability: 10 Things That Make a Difference

There is a lot of information and activities designed to increase awareness and understanding of mental health issues and to reduce the stigma that often goes along with it.

What about the mental health of families that have a child with a disability?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as "a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

Your mental health is affected by numerous factors from your daily life, including the stress of balancing work with your health and relationships. " (Canadian Mental Health Association)

While most parents will say that their child has brought tremendous joy to their lives, it is no secret that the responsibility of having a child with a disability is way beyond the normal stresses of everyday life.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of speaking to many parents. Overwhelmed, exhausted, isolated, afraid, anxious, worried, sad, stressed, upset, angry, frustrated, drained, weakened and shattered are but a few emotions that parents say the experience each and every day.

There are options which provide families with a short break such home support and respite programs however the funding for these programs is relatively minimal compared to the number of hours that parents devote to the care of their child.

Lack of sleep, frequent visits to the doctor or hospital, interrupted careers, strained relationships, dropped friendships, and financial pressure are all examples of the constant and non-stop stress that a family goes through.

Not to mention the attitudinal barriers that families encounter in places at school, the playground, the hospital, the restaurant, the sports team and the list goes on.

Furthermore, parents are not very good at asking for help. In her book, Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown states that "going it alone is a value we hold in high esteem in our culture." She also states that "For some reason we attach judgment to receiving help." I know that my husband and I were reluctant to receive help when it was initially offered and yet looking back, there was absolutely no way we could have done it without the support from our family, friends and funded assistance.

We are informed about the destructive effects on our health from sleep deprivation, chronic stress and secondary traumatic stress disorder as it relates to people on shift work and professional caregivers however we do not ever hear about the devastating effects on families that have a child with a disability.

The Mayo Clinic explains that the long-term effects of chronic stress can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This increases the risk of many health problems, including, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and memory and concentration impairment.

What can be done to preserve the mental health of families that have a child with a …