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Exceptional Advice on Parent Mental Health

By Meshell Baylor, MHS


"Your mental health matters more than any external validation."


Life can be a rollercoaster ride when being a super parent and raising an exceptional child. You proudly start off your day by tackling your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and routine schedules, balancing the work-life arrangements, and still managing to get home and make dinner. After you have completed all the tasks of the previous day, you set your mind to get some shut-eye. As you lay your head on the pillow, your brain refuses to shut down because it knows what's ahead for tomorrow. The next day comes, and there you are again, getting your exceptional child onto the bus or dropping them off to their program, getting through the workday, and making it home to cook, but suddenly, you begin to shut down.


You begin to feel an unbalanced sense of tension in your body; your muscles tense up, and your emotions break you down into total outbursts. You find yourself sitting in the parking lot or at a table in tears because you have mentally shut down. As you sit there, you wonder why you are crying. You question, what's wrong with me? As a parent, mental health is important, especially when you are raising an exceptional child. The parent takes on so much to advocate for the child, and they rarely do not consider that they are having a mental breakdown.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “1 in 14 children has a caregiver with poor mental health.” This can potentially, in the future, positively impact the exceptional child and their adult if they learn to pattern the same routines they see their parents do when facing mental stress. Parents who are dealing with mental stress are overwhelmed and rarely ask for help, advice, or feedback, sometimes out of fear, embarrassment, or shame. Many times, our amazing parents reluctantly do not know what signs to look for when they are mentally stressed out.


Here are some signs to notice when you are mentally stressed:

  • Exhaustion: Feeling fatigued mentally and emotionally unable to perform tasks regularly.

  • Inability To Sleep: Unable to rest properly for a good night's rest.

  • Fatigue: The internal and external body is struggling to find peace.

  • Hormonal Imbalance: Changes in your health due to stress causing a change internally within the body.

  • Weight Increase/ Decrease: Due to hormonal changes, exhaustion, inability to sleep, and fatigue, the body has shifted in an increase or decrease of body weight (gaining weight or losing weight due to stress).

  • Appetite: Incapacity to eat or eating to suppress your emotional stress.

  • Emotional Outburst: Excessive crying, yelling, and frustrations that pop up at unexpected times.

  • Panic Attacks: Shortness of breathing or rapid heartbeat due to stress-related problems.

There are more signs to notice when your exceptional parent is going through a mental breakdown. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I also believe that it takes a village to support the parent in raising that child. If the caregiver/parent breaks down, how will the family function in their absence? The exceptional parent is the driving force that runs the machine. The parent is the driver, mediator in IEP meetings, counselor to the exceptional child, and the scheduler for all the appointments. The parent is the tree that keeps a shade over it all.


Mental health is an important part of our self-care; it includes balancing our psychological, emotional, and social welfare. It affects our daily lives by how we interact with others, and we do this for the people in our lives on a daily basis. As parents, we must demonstrate positive ways of showing our children how to take a break and focus on our mental state due to how our children imitate our behaviors. Here are some tips that will help:

Seek Help: If you are dealing with mental stress, there is no veil of judgment for getting help. Contact your primary care doctor and request a referral for a therapist who specializes in mental wellness. Remember, your health matters.


Deep Breathing: When mentally overwhelmed, take time to do some deep breathing. Deep breathing reduces anxiety, helps with focus, and decreases tension and hypertension.

Silence: The phrase “silence is golden” is very true. Find a quiet space to sit and do those deep breathing exercises. Take some time to sit in total silence to shut out all elements.


  • Exercise: A good walk and feeling the wind against your face can be a good way to decrease stress.

  • Mindfulness Music: Listen to beautiful music for stress relief. They may be composed of nature sounds and various natural elements.

  • Support Group: Supporting an exceptional child and parent takes a village. Find a support group in which you can share your struggles and accomplishments of being an exceptional parent.

  • Vacation: There is nothing wrong with planning a mini vacation. Sometimes, a change of scenery is what you need for self-care.

This journey of life comes with its ups and downs. For exceptional children, their caregiver/parent plays a huge role in the chapter of their lives, and without the parent's participation, the child is lost. We must learn to acknowledge that parents’ mental health is real, and we, as change agents and social workers, must help our super parents get back on track.


References:

Families with special needs children: family health, functioning, and care burden Families with special needs children: family health, functioning, and care burden - PubMed (nih.gov)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Mental health of children and parents —a strong connection (cdc.gov)


Meshell Baylor, MHS, is a mother of four children—two of whom are on the autism spectrum. She serves her community as a social worker and advocate within the Los Angeles area. She has a bachelor’s degree in human services from Springfield College and a Master of Science in Human and Social Services. Meshell continues volunteering and giving within her local area while serving the special needs community.

 

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