The first week of November is Canadian Down Syndrome week. It also marks the beginning of National Caregiver month. And while both deserve attention, I am unsure of how often we consider their overlap. This week, families across our country are taking the time to celebrate Down syndrome through social media and in their local communities. So this blog is a reminder for families to also celebrate their role as caregiver, and attend to their needs as a caregiver, today and every day.
I decided to write this blog after leading a workshop this weekend at the national Down Syndrome Research Foundation conference, “From Good to Great” on family mental health. This workshop was a small portion of a larger workshop that I gave last spring on Down Syndrome and Mental Health. But rather than discuss how to promote mental health and address mental illness experienced by those with Down syndrome, I shifted the focus entirely to the mental health of moms and dads, brothers and sisters.
The families devoted 90 minutes of their very busy lives to talking about their own mental health, and for most of the participants, it was the first time they had done that. Why is it so hard for families? One mother, Sue Robins, put it this way: “Having a child with a disability makes you instantly and constantly vulnerable. In a world where we are supposed to be ‘strong’, feeling vulnerable is very uncomfortable. And with so much on our plates already, feeling uncomfortable is something we will avoid if we can.”
Individually, and then together, we reflected on the various parts of our lives that deplete us, and parts that nourish us. I shared responses that I heard from a similar activity, when I asked a group of teens and adults with Down syndrome the same question.