SEND Parents & their mental health

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The last month saw Mental Health Awareness Week.  As a SEND parent, as with most parents, I’m often focused more on my kids than myself.  Bringing up kids can be stressful but the facts show that bringing up a child with additional needs are more likely to struggle in some areas including that of stress and mental health. 

My kids will no doubt be the greatest achievement of my life, but the constant fighting and worrying has definitely had an impact too.  One in four people in the UK have a diagnosed mental health issue, but some stats say as many are undiagnosed.  Parent carers I know directly relate their illness to this stress and anxiety. Not convinced? The NHS even list being a carer as one of potential causes of stress. 

I asked a quick question “Has having a child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) affected your mental health?”

I was overwhelmed by the responses. 

“My anxiety has been at an all time high since having Ethan. The constant state of being in the unknown plays havoc with my anxiety and mental health. Not having time for myself to replenish is very hard.”
“Since having 2 kids with sen and never getting a full night sleep I’ve become isolated, rarely going out on my own as my anxiety and stress goes too high & I struggle to cope in a busy environment with children who are having a meltdown as I feel like everyone is staring at me. I have zero time to myself as one of them is with me 24/7, I’m always tired, moody, less tolerant of things & I don’t like that person I’ve become in some ways”
“It does impact my mental health greatly although not due to anything Eliza does. It’s people with judgemental ignorant views and comments that got to me and for years I was so anxious when taking my children out to play areas, restaurants etc because I knew at some point, we’d hear the sniggers as Eliza stimmed or faint whispers and staring with a pointing of fingers in our direction. They made me feel like I was doing something wrong, taking my children out in public. That constant feeling of being judged and watched is hard to shake and it can lead to feelings of isolation as well as sending anxiety levels high. We go out regardless and as time has gone we no longer even notice these people.”
“It really does. We celebrate every small victory in our house. Every negative has a negative impact on my mental health because though I know I am allowed to feel overwhelmed and very emotional I need to dust myself off and try again tomorrow. That eventually leads to a mega collapse in my mind. We need to release. Probably more often than we allow ourselves.”
“There’s a lot of additional stress which comes with managing our daughter’s condition (Pathological Demand Avoidance). I’m constantly thinking ahead, not able to make firm plans and always having to make sure there’s an ‘escape’ plan. Fun family holidays are virtually impossible now, so we don’t have that way of relaxing. So there’s definitely an impact on our mental health as parents, and we need to find more inventive ways of unwinding.”
“Having a child with SEND has definitely impacted on my mental health but not because of her. When she was diagnosed I was mentally in a very bad place because we were given a diagnosis and then left to it. I felt guilty and like I was letting our daughter down and failing because I didn’t know how to help her. Although I’m in a much better place now I worry about the future and about things others luckily don’t have to think about such as what will happen when we die.”
“Having a child with severe physical disabilities has impacted heavily on my mental health as well as my physical health. I developed severe anxiety and depression when Lyla was two and went onto anti depressants. The difference was like night and day, I hadn’t realised how debilitating my anxiety in particular had become. I still rely on the medication now even though I am in a much better place but I wish there was more physical mental health support in the form of counselling readily available for parents and siblings in the years following a diagnosis when you are raising a child with disabilities. ” 
“It completely and utterly impacts on parent mental health. Lack of sleep, elevated stress levels and lack of breaks are not a great combination. All mum’s but particularly SEN mum’s need mental health check ins to prevent those suffering falling through the net as it is particularly isolating.”
“Having a child with SEN has a major impact on your mental health. Personally we experienced extreme lack of sleep for the first few years which had a massive impact on me. After my son’s diagnosis I felt very isolated and a huge pressure to learn how to support my son. Unfortunately the world is full of misconceptions about autism which in turn creates lots of pressure and stress on the parents. We are blamed and judged in a daily basis which in the early days broke me. I am in a better place than I was but when your child struggles so do you and unfortunately most children with SEN have many struggles.”
“I know I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I think, if anything, my mental health is better than it’s ever been. That may sound odd, even untruthful, but I assure you it’s not. One study found 79% of parents of a person with Down’s Syndrome reported feeling more positive since having their child, and this has certainly been the case for us. There’s even a name for this phenomenon.”
“For me it isn’t the SEND itself that causes the issues. It’s the battling with medical and educational professionals to get access to what is needed. The waiting, the not knowing, the feeling as if you are failing because you can’t make things happen at the speed they should.”
Yes, it can . be challenging and managing our own mental health appears to be one of the challenges many SEND parents face.  May I wish you all good mental health and I look forward to sharing your posts next month, feel free to contact me or highlight your blog below.
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About Ann .

“Rainbows are too beautiful,” said Anthony. “I just can’t look at them.” Ann says her son’s statement characterizes so much about how her autistic and neurotypical family interacts and interprets the world in their own wonderful way.

Originally a PR and marketing professional for the third sector, Ann now does some lecturing in this topic but spends most of her time being a full time mum and sharing her experiences through her award nominated blog. Ann’s three kids attend different schools and have multiple diagnoses including Autism, ADHD, anxiety and more. Ann is a Trustee on a local disabled children’s charity and speaks at SEND conferences and consultations.