Today I am going on a first aid course, although this is not about physical first aid but Mental Health First Aid, which as an employer, we have a duty to take care of. I am expecting to learn about signs to look out for of poor mental health and what action, as an employer, we can, and should, take. I am looking forward to it and I am sure that it will be interesting. I may also gain some professional insight to a topic that I think about a great deal and it could be something also that I can use to share with parents at school too.
Given the anxiety, unpredictability and sleeplessness that special needs parents face most days, it is pretty inevitable that as a group, we face more mental health problems than most. The brain does not get the opportunities to switch off and relax that it needs, being on red alert at all times: listening out for noises of seizures or activity at night, trying to calm anxious autistic minds that do not understand how our world works , occupied by the physical demands of caring or battling the grief and disappointment that this child will not grow independent or thrive, like he or she should have done. All of that, and more, is a lot to handle, on top of the daily challenges that every parents face.
Before judging any parents of a child with special needs, you need to take some time to try to ‘walk in their shoes’ and at least imagine what their daily life is like. You may see an irritable father, or an angry, emotional mother for instance, and think that they ought not to behave in that way. But the mind can only take so much and then it overflows, it short-circuits and poor mental health may be the result. I think that we need to be kinder to people in this crisis and if possible, to help them to see that there are positives and that life is not as hopeless as it feels at that moment. You might be able to break into their doom and gloom, with a kind smile or word or perhaps with an offer of help. It might not be accepted, but it will mean that you have acknowledged someone else’s pain or difficulty. You have not got a magic wand to take all that pain and difficulty away, but you are taking the time to at least enter their world briefly and trying to be a bright moment in what might otherwise be a day of darkness.