Depression and Parenting a Child with Special Needs

One could just imagine the kind of physical, emotional, and financial stress special needs parents go through in the course of caring for their child day in and day out. The struggles and hardships they have to endure in their daily parenting journey and fulfillment of their duties.

You just have to admire how one is able to put on a smile every day and manage to go about their daily lives. Despite of. But special needs parents are no super humans. They are probably close to that, in a figurative sense of the word. Yet, they are highly vulnerable to stress and depression. Some are able to cope up and manage with help from relatives and friends. But many succumb and spiral down to depression.

Raising a special child is definitely life changing. The daily tasks involved in the care of special needs child can be overwhelming and exhausting. You don’t get to sleep as much as you want or as you need to. You may suffer from low self-esteem and feeling of inadequacy as parent.

You then tend to make up by focusing all your effort and energy to the care of your child. Thus losing time for oneself or care less about one’s own well-being. You start losing interest in the activities that you used to enjoy.

You have trouble concentrating and making decisions. You sometimes feel isolated. You may suffer from grief over the loss of a baby you thought you would have. That “normal” child parenting experience you imagined it to be—joining family oriented school activities, playing in a park, shopping for baby hair accessories with your best friend and her kids, attending your child’s piano recital. So many things you have would have wanted to do and enjoy with your child, but can’t. And the journey to acceptance takes time.

And then there is the economic cost of caring for a special child. Caring for a special needs child requires financial commitment to cover for medical care, special education expenses and even loss of income due to parents’ reduced working hours or quitting altogether—so they can give full-time care to their child.

All these stressors overtime can take its toll and contribute to a full blown depression.

But most of the time, parents of special needs children do not recognize the signs and symptoms of depression. And when these symptoms are not recognized and continue to overwhelm the parent. The more aggravated the situation becomes and the harder it would be to cope.

"This means it will become harder and harder for an individual to bounce back or return to 'normal functioning.' The longer we’re exposed to stress or negative emotions and thinking, the less able we become at coping with those feelings." -Depression in Parents of Children with Special Needs: How to Recognize the Symptoms and Signs

So it is important for special needs parents to check and detect early on these signs before they suffer from depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following signs and symptoms that one experiences most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, could be an indication the one already suffers from depression.

Not all sufferers will experience every symptom:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood 
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism 
  • Irritability
  •  Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities 
  • Decreased energy or fatigue 
  • Moving or talking more slowly 
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still 
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions 
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping 
  • Appetite and/or weight changes 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts 
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Prolonged exposure to chronic stress and negative emotions could eventually lead to depression. And identifying and recognizing these signs is the first step to coping. Making time for oneself, finding and joining support groups and meet other parents who understand your emotional struggles, seeking government backed financial assistance are good means to ease depression and to develop one’s coping skills. But most importantly, seeking professional help to get guidance and assistance in getting back on track to a healthier emotional, physical, and psychological state. For a special needs parent, developing one’s coping skills benefits both the parent and the special needs child.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to serve as a medical advice. Please consult a medical doctor or mental care professional if you feel you are suffering from depression.

About the Author:
Cady was a former Junior Financial Analyst. She is now an entrepreneur, managing an online business, doing graphic designs, and a writer at She is also a doting mother and book enthusiast.

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