Monday, 30 May 2016

It's Not Either, Or by Sarah Evans

I have a physical disability and a mental health issue. I am an advocate for both. One of the first things people want to know is whether my mental health issues are caused by my cerebral palsy. It is interesting how we are always tempted to silo issues.

When I started advocating for mental health issues, I was adamant in telling people my mental health issues were not caused by my disability. I didn't want to make mental health another part of my disability. I thought this would further ostracize people with disabilities in the mental health community.

Now I am not so sure the issues are separate. My mental health issues may not be directly caused by my cerebral palsy, but they definitely factor in. Sometimes I feel very isolated. I volunteer from home and sometimes it is hard to go out. I get tired easily at night. Many places are, unfortunately, not accessible. I may find an event online I would like to go to only to find out there are stairs or the washroom can't fit a wheelchair. Sometimes, when I am not sure if the venue is accessible, I could call or email to ask, but I am afraid they will say they aren't accessible or I just feel blah and I don't want to put out the effort. I know that feeling is part of the discouragement and depression. It's a downward spiral.

When a person with a disability has a secondary health concern, its not a matter of one being the cause of the other. It's impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. We have to see the whole person with both joys and challenges.

By the way, this is a really interesting study about mood disorders in Canada. It speaks to the prevalence of different mental health issues among various groups of people. Sadly, people with physical disabilities aren't even mentioned. That is very telling, actually. We are so often an ignored demographic. 

Monday, 2 May 2016

Mindful Parenting by Jennifer L. Gibson, PharmD

Mindfulness is critical for personal well-being. Mindfulness is essentially a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. By committing to this focus on the present, people can reduce stress and improve health. Mindfulness is usually an inward-focused practice, concerning an individual and his or her own self-awareness. Now, however, attention is being focused on mindfulness in parenting and, more specifically, mindful parenting for parents who have children with disabilities.

Mindfulness involves purposefully paying attention to how we feel and what we think, but without judgment or criticism. We tune our thoughts to the present moment and ignore calls to the past or imaginations of the future. Mindfulness is often developed through meditation, but even being mindful during simple, mundane tasks (like washing the dishes) can reduce stress and improve positive feelings.

Parents of children with disabilities face increased risks for acute and chronic stress, and many physical and psychological variables affect parenting decisions and behaviours. A parenting couple’s relationship is also strained when a child has disabilities. These stresses can be mitigated with mindfulness, and mindfulness can promote positive outcomes for the child and strengthen all familial relationships. Not surprisingly, parents who focus on such present-centred attention are more involved in the care and support of their children. Parents who practice mindfulness in caregiving also report greater satisfaction with parenting, more social interactions with their children, and lower levels of stress.

Mindful parenting does not only affect parents, though. Parents who mindfully attend to the care of their children with disabilities improve the lives and health of the children. Mindfulness of parents who are caring for their own children with disabilities leads to greater happiness for the children. Mindful parenting also reduces aggression and increases social behaviour in children with disabilities, including developmental and intellectual disabilities. Additionally, children whose parents practice mindfulness have increased positive and decreased negative interactions with their siblings.

Mindfulness training and interventions might help prepare parents for delivering the necessary care to their children. Whether you practice formal mindfulness, simply set aside a few minutes a day to calm and quiet your mind, or commit to paying attention to yourself on purpose throughout your day, mindfulness may be a path to transforming how you care for your child. Teaching your mind to ignore distractions and focus on your thoughts and feelings can be difficult – especially for tired, overworked, multi-tasking parents – but what is better to focus on than caring for your child?

Jennifer Gibson is a pharmacist and medical communicator. Dr. Gibson trained as a hospital pharmacist specializing in internal medicine and acute care, and, in this role, helped to implement patient safety initiatives and investigate medication errors and adverse drug reactions in hospital settings. She evaluates and consults on clinical performance and risk reduction in the health care industry and in other high-reliability organizations, and she regularly presents medication and patient safety education and training sessions for health care professionals, as well as parents, children, and caregivers. Find out more about Dr. Gibson at