Parenting a Child with Mental Illness or Disability
Parenting a Child with Mental Illness or Disability
As most parents would agree, bringing new life into the world and raising kids can be one of the most rewarding and life-changing milestones that they accomplish – but while the joys of parenting often outweigh the drawbacks, fulfilling the role of a parent, undeniably comes with its fair share of challenges. These typical challenges can be magnified for parents who care for a child with a disability or whose child develops a mental illness. These challenges can include significant amounts of worry not only about their child’s illness, but a concern about the impact of their disorder on all of the family members involved.
Many parents may also feel a great sense of social isolation, as their still remains a societal stigma surrounding mental illnesses, which is interesting given the high prevalence of mental health problems. Childhood psychological and behavioural disorders are actually quite widespread, with around 14 % of young Australians aged 4-17 experiencing them. Although troublingly, only around 50% of these cases attain psychological treatment, as parents often assume that help and support is unaffordable, or the belief that they do not need it and can manage themselves. Many parents may find it useful to learn that most psychological and allied health care services have an annual rebatable threshold available through Medicare and many private health care companies, depending on their coverage and GP referral, and may even be eligible to receive further financial assistance for ongoing health care costs once they reach the Medicare safety net. For more information on financial compensation for mental health and medical care, visit MBS online here
It is important for parents to look after themselves so they can provide the most effective care for their children. Reassuring parents that they are NOT alone and seeking the appropriate help is NOT a sign of weakness but actually a sign of strength and resilience. The first step is recognising the symptoms when help may be required. Some of the typical signs to look out for when troublesome emotions begin to take their toll include:
- Increased sense of mental fatigue, lack of concentration or mental fog
- Feeling as though life stressors are overwhelming and unmanageable
- Experiencing an overwhelming sense of guilt
- Feeling hopeless and alone
- Withdrawing oneself from social activities or talking about problems with family and friends due to shame or embarrassment for fear of being ridiculed, socially outcast, or judged negatively for causing their child’s problem/ being perceived as a ‘bad’ parent
- Experiencing overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety about your child’s problem that it impairs concentration and ability to engage in other tasks
- Decreased motivation to engage in activities that were once enjoyable
Give up the guilt –
Finding out that your child has a disability or mental illness can be heartbreaking and overwhelming news for parents. Too often parents will blame themselves for causing or contributing to their child’s difficulties. For most psychological disorders the underlying causes are multifaceted and cannot be pinpointed to one singular definitive factor – there are various elements to consider, including an individual’s exposure to their environment, their genetic predisposition and their life experiences. So next time you feel the guilt creeping in, take a check on where it is coming from and how accurate it really is – instead of dwelling on the things that are outside of your control as a parent, focus on the things that are.
Take time out for yourself –
Sometimes, parents can get so caught up in devoting copious amounts of their time, money, and energy into helping their children, that they can begin to lose sight of the things that they once enjoyed doing, whereby their own life satisfaction and well-being begins to take its toll. This is why it is important for parents to be able to separate themselves from their children, by taking time out and doing something for themselves regularly (however small), to ensure their own needs are being met. It may be helpful to set up a structured routine that parents follow each week, taking it in turns one night to look after their child while the other parent leaves the house for a few hours respite to do something entirely unrelated to their child. Remember: there is only one of you – you do not have superpowers (you are only human!).
Take a day off worrying –
while you may not have the time nor resources to take your parenting hat off for the entire day to do whatever you like, you can however, free up at least one day of the week where you do not spend all of your time and energy worrying about the extensive list of things that you ‘could’ or ‘should’ be doing to help your child– whether it be withholding from making future appointments, planning ahead of time, researching into their condition, or simply turning your phone off for a couple of hours: making a deliberate attempt to focus some of your energy (even if it is sparing), elsewhere is essential for your own mental health and quality of life. As you find yourself worrying, it may be helpful to mindfully postpone when you will allow yourself to focus on those tasks, by even setting aside a designated time frame at a later date.
Speak up and get support –
Make contact – don’t do it alone. So many parents do not seek the help and support they often need when caring and supporting for their child experiencing behavioural or psychological difficulties, due to their belief that it is a sign of weakness and that they can manage on their own. The truth is, when parents hide their inner distress and bottle up their emotions by putting on a brave face, it may only lead to emotional fatigue and burnout, increasing the potential for their own mental health difficulties to unravel down the track. The important thing for parents to remember is, that in order to provide the best possible support for their child, it is essential that they take care of themselves first!
What treatment is available?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been proven a very effective psychotherapeutic method for treating a range of psychological issues surrounding excessive levels of anxiety and distress. The core components of CBT involve identifying the individuals irrational negative thought biases and restructuring these with more positive and realistic ways of thinking and behaving, with the ongoing support and guidance from a specialising psychologist. A main feature of psychotherapy involves teaching the individual valuable life skills that they can apply to handle their challenging emotions more effectively and apply these to the various stressful situations that life may throw at them.
The benefits of CBT also extend to children with behavioural or psychological disorders, as they can also acquire various skills to manage the difficult emotions that they may experience. Some areas of CBT training that may be beneficial for them include social skills, anger management, assertiveness, relaxation techniques and deep-breathing exercises.
Our recommend therapist at Anxiety House…
Dr Angela Russel – Clinical Psychologist
What is your experience?
- Seven years’ experience with clients with anxiety and other mental health issues
- Senior Psychologist at Child and Youth Mental Health Service
- Worked in both public and private settings
- Inpatient and community treatment experience
- Clinical supervisor, STAP trained
- Child development researcher, and presenter at international conferences
Sophie Lucas is our Anxiety House blogger and is studying Bachelor of Communications at UQ. Sophie is passionate about anxiety recovery and loves to write about research and provide EDUCATION about anxiety. Sophie and Director Dr Emily O’Leary carefully think about each topic and try and provide the most up to date information. We have a number of scheduled blogs coming up, but we really want to hear your IDEAS! What topics would YOU like to know more about?
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