Message on World Mental Health Day - 10th October -2023
Prof Hemamali Perera
Take Care of the Mental Health of Parents
As professionals who work closely with children with special developmental needs and their families, we are constantly confronted with issues that are related to their mental health. For the child to fully benefit from the interventions we offer, it is critical that parents are coping with the demands of caring for their child. If the mental well-being of the parents is adversely affected it may not be always visible because the priority is usually the child. Evidence may show up later as non-compliance with treatment or dropping out altogether. They may have unrealistic expectations of therapy and believe the child could do better elsewhere. Causes of poor mental health in parents are multiple including stigma and other sociocultural factors and the nature of the child’s problem.
Mental health is not a separate entity but an integral part of our overall health. It affects how we think, feel, and act, shaping our interactions with those around us and the wider world. Similarly, negative mental health has an undesirable impact on thinking and behavior. When the parents are affected, there is a direct impact on children. There is clear evidence from research that depression in mothers causes significant anxiety and behavior problems in children. A 5-year-old with mild developmental delay recently diagnosed with a seizure disorder is a case to reckon with. This child received relevant investigations and medication, which rapidly controlled the seizures. However, the child started to have recurrent disturbed behavior at night and expressed sad emotions. This caused much anxiety in parents who were already upset by the diagnosis, leading them to doubt the treatment, visit different doctors, and perform cultural rituals. The child later confided in recurring scary dreams.
Parents are our allies and partners in helping the child. Our parents are a valuable asset that we sometimes may not give due credit. A few simple questions posed to them on how they are coping will elicit early signs of any existing or impending mental health problems. Let’s help parents to be resilient and confident in helping their special child.
Prof Hemamali Perera