Raising a child is one of the most rewarding journeys in life. But for parents of children with disabilities, it can be one of the most challenging. Many studies have suggested that parents and caregivers of disabled children are at increased risk for mental health issues, including depression. However, until now, few studies have looked at how familial, relationship, and health factors affect this risk. Additionally, it is important to determine how social support and level of disability affect a parent’s mental health. To explore these issues, J. Aaron Resch of the Center on Disability and Development at Texas A&M recently led a study examining depression rates and risk factors for major depressive episodes in 110 parents who were raising disabled children.
Resch found that among all the participants, only 19 met the criteria for depression. This is much higher than rates of depression in the general population, but much lower than those found in caregivers of disabled children in previous research. He believes this is because his study looked solely at symptoms of depression and not emotional stress in general. Because much of the existing data have focused on emotional instability as a whole, rates of depression may be quite inflated and may include other mood problems such as stress and anxiety.
Another interesting finding was that even though the levels of disability varied greatly from child to child, this did not appear to directly predict parental depression. In fact, Resch discovered that other factors impacted depression more significantly. In particular, the family relationship and the marital relationship had large effects on depression rates in this sample. “Based on these ﬁndings, demographic variables and child disability characteristics may not be the best indicators of parent risk for depression,” Resch said.
One of the biggest indicators of depression was the parental appraisal of the circumstances surrounding their child. For instance, parents who felt that social and financial support were unavailable were at higher risk for depression than those who did not harbor that fear. This implies that parents can benefit greatly from having a positive outlook and from developing hope for their child’s well-being. Resch believes that future research should extend these findings so that the risk of parental depression can be minimized through the development and implementation of programs and services that focus on the most paramount needs of these families.
Resch, J. A., Elliott, T. R., Benz, M. R. (2012). Depression among parents of children with disabilities. Families, Systems, & Health. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030366
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