By Susie Hopkins
With the strain of caring for kids with complex needs falling mainly on mums, it’s hardly surprising that we experience mental health problems at much higher levels than most people.
This terrible situation is made worse by the fact that we’re not likely to seek help when we need it. One of the main reasons for this is that we don’t see our mental health problems as serious enough to require help.
Please know, there is NEVER a wrong time to seek help if you are at all worried about your mental health. If you’re wondering whether it’s time to seek support then it most likely is.
Call lifeline on 13 11 14 if you’re in crisis or are at all worried about harming yourself or others or skip to the bottom of this article for information to seek less urgent support. Or read on to find out if how to tell it’s time to do so.
It is perfectly normal to react to difficult times with a range of emotions including grief, frustration, anger, anxiety, sadness and worry. And there is a lot we can to support our own mental wellbeing, check out this free online course which teaches you what you can do to feel less stressed in under an hour. Or perhaps bookmark it so you can find it easily if it’s not the right time right now.
Sometimes, emotional turmoil may be impacting your life so much that you need the support of a mental health professional or you risk getting even more unwell emotionally. Treatment for mental health problems is usually very effective. The first step to getting well and enjoying life again is asking for help and importantly, most of the time, the sooner you get treatment for mental health problems the better the outcome will be.
Let’s look in more detail at when to seek help from a mental health professional and some of the ways to do so.
Experiencing a mental health problem
Is what you’re experiencing ‘normal’ or a sign that you need help? It can be tricky to know because most mental health problems are characterised by normal but unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations. The difference is the intensity and frequency that you experience them. Without support you may stay unwell for much, much longer than necessary.
While there’s not a black and white time-line, there is some agreement that if you are experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings or other concerning symptoms that interfere with your enjoyment of life more often than you are used to consistently over a period of more than two weeks it is time to discuss your mental health with a health professional.
The stats are pretty frightening. In one study looking and the health of mums of kids with disabilities:
“High rates of mental ill health were self-identified in the previous 12 months, with reported clinically significant depression (44%), anxiety (42%), and suicidality (22%). Nearly half (48%) of the mothers reported high to very high psychological distress. Although 75% of mothers perceived a need for professional support, only 58% attempted to access this.
Key barriers to accessing support were caregiving duties making it difficult to schedule appointments (45%) and not perceiving the mental health problem as serious enough to require help (36%).”
As you can see, we need to get much better at seeking support so we can go on caring for our kids in the best way we can. If not for yourself, do it for them! But better yet, do it for yourself. You deserve to experience a life of joy and ease as much as anyone else!
Some anxiety is normal and helps us avoid danger and be motivated. But if you feel nervous when there isn’t anything to be worried about you may have an anxiety disorder. They are very common and effective treatments are available. Some signs of an anxiety disorder include:
- A feeling of excessive doom or worry
- Nervousness for no reason
- Nervousness much of the time
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disturbed sleep patterns and
- Difficulty carrying out everyday activities
You may also have physical symptoms including a racing pulse, feeling short of breath and shakiness. A ‘racing’ mind and unpleasant repetitive thoughts are also common.
Much like anxiety, feeling down or unhappy some of the time is normal especially when facing the kinds of challenges parents of kids with disabilities face every day. When you feel so down, unhappy or perhaps very easily upset and you lack motivation or energy in an ongoing way over weeks or months, this indicates that you are likely to really benefit from seeking help from a health professional.
Other common signs are:
- No longer enjoying activities that usually give you pleasure
- Disturbed sleep
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Not looking forward to anything, and
- Feeling numb or not feeling not much at all
Other mental health concerns
There are a number of other mental illnesses that are less common and often more serious, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which may be characterised by an inability to distinguish what is real and what is not, or disordered thoughts, or perhaps reckless behaviour. There are also other psychological conditions such as personality disorders.
ADHD is also now recognised as a condition that persists into adulthood and can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and many other problems if not treated.
How these conditions present is complex and varied, but the same principles apply. If you’re are having distressing thoughts and feelings or other worrying symptoms more than you usually do and they are impacting your life adversely for more than two weeks, don’t delay seeking help.
The complexity and vulnerability of our mental health is another reason why seeking help sooner rather than later is so important. As well as our genes, our environment plays an important role in whether we experience mental health problems and how severe they may become.
As I’ve already mentioned, mental health problems that are not treated often become much worse. They are medical conditions that require treatment. And remember, health professionals have looked after many others who have sought help before you. They will not judge you; they will simply begin the process of ensuring you no longer have to endure your mental health concerns without support.
How to seek help
The first step is to speak to your GP. If you don’t have one that you trust, here’s some info on how to work out if a particular GP is the right person to talk to about your mental health.
There are several sources of great information, about mental health and how to seek help such as the Beyond Blue website. Another alternative is eTharapy or online therapy which is psychological therapy, support and information provided over the internet. (See info below)
So, don’t delay. If you are at all worried about your mental health, seek the support of a health professional today.
If you need support call one of the following numbers:
Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service – 1800 512 348
MensLine Australia – 1300 78 99 78
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
A FREE crash-course for parents of kids with special needs – Because when you’re less stressed your whole family benefits.
Specially designed for time-poor parents and carers, this concise course is packed full of actionable insights to help you create a life with less stress for the whole family.
It has been created by Susie Hopkins who is a Registered Nurse, has a Masters of Public health and yoga and mindfulness qualifications. She has been teaching stress management for almost 10 years and is also the sole parent of an autistic child.
Click on the link above for more information.