Special Needs and Mental Health

Special Needs and Mental Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, 1 in 4 adults, an estimated 61 million individuals, have a disability. Although “people with disabilities” sometimes refer to a single population, this is a diverse group of people with a wide range of needs. Two people with the same type of disability can be affected in very different ways. Some disabilities may be hidden or not easy to see and can limit how a child or adult functions.

In addition to these challenges, approximately 30-50% of children with special needs may also have mental health conditions, according to research in the Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability. Frequent mental distress is associated with poor health behaviors, increased use of health services, mental disorders, chronic disease, and limitations in daily life.

You might look for mental health help for your special needs child if they:

• Are acting differently than their usual self
• Refuse to partake in routine chores like they used to.
• Have significant changes in appetite or sleeping patterns.
• Seem unsettled – extra frustrated, aggressive, angry, worried, or sad.
• Are having trouble sleeping, stomach aches, constipation, or other physical issues – with no clear medical reason why.
• Have quick bursts of energy like pacing back and forth, tantrums, or more vocalizations.
• Are trying risky behavior or doing things to self-injure on purpose?
• Have more (or more intense) challenging behaviors than usual.

National Resources:
• Special Olympics Inclusive Health- Inclusive Health 
• Self-Care Tips for Special Olympics Families
• NCHPAD – Building Healthy Inclusive Communities
• Disability and Health Healthy Living | CDC

How to Talk Away the Dark

How to Talk Away the Dark

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) wants to talk. Well, they want us to talk. About mental health and suicide, the 12th leading cause of death in the US. On average, there are 130 suicides per day here.

AFSP research shows suicide is preventable if we work together. Since their public education program “Talk Saves Lives” launched in 2015, it has reached nearly 150,000 people across all 50 states with science-informed education about suicide and how we can all help prevent it. It can be as simple as reaching out to a friend.

Suicide is a topic that often hides in the shadows. In the dark. Many with depression or other mental health conditions that are unaddressed could lead to suicide and may feel ashamed or hesitant to ask for help. We can all make a difference. Learn the warning signs, know the risk factors and if you sense someone is struggling, be brave and talk to them. A few kind words can make a difference in connecting someone to help.

Now you’re thinking, “Could saying the wrong thing make it worse?” and worrying, “How do I begin a conversation?” You’re probably afraid of what you’ll do if they confess they are having thoughts of suicide. But research shows that asking someone directly if you suspect they may be thinking about suicide won’t put the idea in their head if it wasn’t there to begin with.

AFSP wants people to feel more confident in having a #RealConvo about mental health in general, and suicide when it comes up. Their #TalkAwayTheDark campaign page features a new short film highlighting some of the warning signs for suicide, #RealConvo Guides, and other tools, resources, and creative ways to help us overcome our fears of speaking up.

The #RealConvo Guides, which cover topics including general mental health conversations, how to reach out for help, how to respond if someone tells you they’re thinking about suicide, and how to sensitively talk to a survivor of suicide loss, contain an easy-to-follow step by step process, from opening lines to follow up. They include conversation starters such as, “What is one thing you are looking forward to?’ and ‘Who is one person who makes you feel seen?’ The guides offer ways to share your own experiences, how to follow the other person’s lead, when to take a break, and how to help them connect to professional support.

Suicide prevention begins with talking. Be open to discussions of mental health. Be watchful and be ready to speak up.

Learn more with #TalkAwayTheDark.

Always remember, if you, a friend or a loved one is in crisis, call or text 988, or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7. If you’ve lost someone to suicide, support is available.

The Effects of Chronic Illness and Medical Trauma on Child, Adolescent, + Teen Mental Health

The Effects of Chronic Illness and Medical Trauma on Child, Adolescent, + Teen Mental Health

When you hear the terms “chronic illness” and “medical trauma,” what comes to mind? Chronic illness may be defined as a chronic physiological condition that affects a person’s physical abilities that may require extended medical treatments. Medical trauma results from continued or extended medical treatments that may be painful or invasive in their goal towards overall better health.

With chronic illness and medical trauma, the average person may assume that this only affects adults, but it also affects our children, adolescents, and teens. They too, are dealing with medical trauma because of their chronic illness. And that can lead to a decrease in their overall mental well-being.

What it may look like in children, adolescents, and teens

In children, adolescents, and teens with chronic illnesses, you may see difficulties with their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional interactions, which can take a toll on their siblings as well as their parent’s relationships. Due to the high levels of stress equated with chronic illness and medical trauma they may present anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders. Furthermore, there may be signs of decreased energy, difficulty sleeping, difficulty focusing, changes in appetite as well as other physiological discomforts like aches, pains, headaches, and cramps. With their difficulties Adjusting to continued physical pains as well as invasive treatments, parents, siblings, and extended family members who may not be aware of ways that they are able to help in this process. Here are a few ways that family members may help during and after the hospital or medical facility visit.

Ways parents can help at the hospital or medical facility

  • Be patient with your child.
  • Help your child understand what is happening
  • Talk about your feelings together.
  • Help your child see the hospital staff or medical staff as helpers.
  • Young children are often more affected by being left alone.
  • Take care of yourself

Ways parents can help at home.

  • Go back to everyday routines.
  • Be patient and give everyone time to readjust.
  • Set normal time limits.
  • Allow your children to talk about feelings and worries if they want to
  • Encourage your child to spend time with friends.
  • Help your child to do some things on his or her own.
  • Take time to deal with your feelings.
  • Follow up with your doctor.

If you, your child, adolescent, teen, or someone you know is experiencing a decrease in their mental health due to chronic illness and medical trauma, please contact The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, click Trauma Types, and scroll down and you will see Medical Trauma. For medical trauma resources, click the NCTSN resources.

Coping Strategies For Families

Coping Strategies For Families

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Healthy coping and self-soothing strategies are often effective tools that help us manage the effects of stress and intense emotions. These strategies have also been shown to help moderate the relationship between stress and the development of more severe health problems, such as depressive symptoms and physical health concerns. Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health.

What is coping?

Coping commonly refers to an individual’s effort to regulate emotions, cognitions, physiology, behavior and situations in reaction to stressful events or challenging circumstances. In other words, coping is anything that one does in an attempt to manage stress. During stressful situations, coping skills can help to diffuse or “turn down the volume” of intense emotion, allowing for increased control over an individual’s response to the situation.

10 Coping Skills For Families:

  1. Connect

Pro Tip: Connection with younger children happens less through direct conversation and more through play and shared activity, so be aware of when and how your child usually opens up

  1. Move

Pro tip: Ask your child if they’d like to choose an activity to ‘move our bodies or if they’d like you to. This way, you can offer them some control if necessary or not if they’re overwhelmed.

  1. Slow down

Pro Tip: Simply allow an open and unscheduled chunk of time for your child to navigate. Pretty easy right?

  1. Play

Pro-tip: Push through your adult discomforts and don’t be afraid to get silly with your child! Allow them to direct the play and meet their needs for control and predictability.

  1. Journal

Pro-tip: Use these engaging emotions flashcards for kids (fresh off the press!) to prompt them in writing how they feel and why.

  1. Create

Pro-tip: Prepare an inviting surface (this might mean putting down a tablecloth, tray, etc) for your child, and set out a few different art tools for them to choose from.

  1. Music 

Pro tip: Spotify has tons of great playlists for relaxation or check out Nancy’s great collection of music for kids.

  1. Nourish

Pro tip: Make a healthy recipe with your child and reap the benefits of a better mood, fun, and connection.

  1. Meditation

Pro tip: Check out the best tools for mindfulness with kids that promote calm and focus

  1. Problem Solve

Pro Tip: Use these goal setting resources for kids to make it super simple for you and your child.

  1. Go Outdoors

Pro-tip: Bring an ‘indoor activity’ outside! Simply grab your lunch, some books or a board game and do them outside instead.

Mental Health Resources for Families:

American Academy of Pediatrics-Mental Health Resources for Families (aap.org)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)- Resources for Families Coping with Mental and Substance Use Disorders | SAMHSA

Child Mind Institute-How to Model Healthy Coping Skills – Child Mind Institute

NAMI-Mental Health Education | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Coping with Loss: Bereavement and Mental Health

Coping with Loss: Bereavement and Mental Health

The death of a loved one – at any age, from any circumstance – is one of the cruelest blows that life has to offer. The journey through this grief is long and difficult. In the early moments, we may find ourselves in an all-consuming pain beyond description. It can be tough to live our everyday lives, challenging to think about anything other than our loss. Even happy memories may bring us pain for a time. People do not “get over” the death of a child, sibling, parent or grandchild, nor do they “snap out of it” as the outside world often thinks we should. This loss is not an illness from which we recover. It is a life altering change that forces us to build a new life for ourselves and our families in a world that no longer includes our loved one.

When a death occurs, you may experience a wide range of emotions, even when the death is expected. Some emotions and experiences you may encounter include: profound sadness, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, denial of the loss, inability to function at work, and anger with yourself, family members, medical personnel, God, even the deceased. Below are some ways you can cope with grief.


1. Let Others Help You
• Tap bonds with friends, teachers and counselors
• Trust others to help
• Share feelings and pain

2. Remember It’s Normal To Feel What Seems Abnormal
• It is common to feel that you’re ‘going crazy’
• Personal disorganization is common
• Anger and fear will be present

3. Express Thoughts and Feelings
• Words are most helpful and least harmful
• Crying is healthy – it is ok to cry
• Do not fear losing control

4. Do Not Try to Avoid Grief
• Avoiding grief adds misery
• Lean into your feelings

• Grief postponed is acceptance postponed
5. Reach Out
• Sharing is our responsibility
• Do not assume others know what you need
• Choose to be healed

6. Help Others
• Memorialize
• Do more than expected
• Volunteer

7. Rise Above Bitterness
• Bitterness displaces blame
• Grudges deplete energy
• Forgive self and others

8. Expect to Regress
• Grief is erratic
• Special times can be hard

9. Maintain Physical Strength
• Have healthy eating and sleeping habits
• Run, play, and participate in sports
• Find ways to relax

10. Deal With Your Needs and Immediate Problems
• Decide what your needs are
• Seek healthy ways to meet your needs

Remember that you are not the only one who has gone through profound loss and grief. The grieving process can be made a little easier with support. A variety of grieving support resources are available, many of which are online. Below, you’ll find the best grief-related resources in the nation.
Vitas Healthcare
VITAS provides bereavement services including support groups, newsletters, national bereavement events, brief phone support & Facebook Bereavement Group to caregivers, family members & friends of VITAS patients and members of the community experiencing grief. All services provided at no cost.
239-649-2300 | VITAS.com

Cribs for Kids-Healing Hearts
The Healing Hearts Infant Bereavement Group is a private group for those who have experienced the death of a baby. It is a place where invited members can share stories, and other information about their precious child. We welcome members to provide support to others and seek support during difficult times. Meetings occur first Tuesday of each month from 7:00 to 9:00 pm through an online format. If you are interested in joining our online meeting on the first Tuesday of every month at 7 pm.
[email protected].

Bereaved Parents of the USA
This national, non-profit self-help group offers many resources for bereaved parents to help them rebuild their lives.

Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation
Families don’t have to face childhood cancer without support. The Childhood Cancer Foundation provides emotional, educational and practical assistance
for families in need.

CJ First Candle
This organization provides bereavement support to families who have suffered the loss of a baby from SIDS, SUID or stillbirth.

Parent Grief Support Directory
Find a wide array of local, national and international grief support resources for grieving parents.

MISS Foundation
For families who have experienced the death of a child, find grief resources and online support forums which are fully moderated for safe, caring interactions with others.

Perinatal Hospice and Palliative Care Resources for Parents
These resources are for parents who have been told by medical professionals that their unborn baby will likely die before or after delivery.

The TEARS Foundation
This non-profit organization offers compassionate financial assistance to grieving parents who have lost a baby and need to make final arrangements.

The Compassionate Friends – Supporting Families After a Child Dies
This non-profit organization exists to provide friendship, understanding, and hope to those going through the natural grieving process.