For chronic and serious illness, we know that challenges don’t end with physical health. As traumatic as a child’s illness is for the child, it is of course traumatic for the caregivers as well. True “healing” may require finding help for the child’s heart, as well as your own! Here are warning signs that you or your child may need professional emotional support.

1. Overwhelming Feelings
Imagine your child and yourself as a pitcher and your feelings as water that fills this pitcher. Is water spilling uncontrollably over the side? If your feelings or your child’s feelings are too intense, it may be worth seeking the support of a professional to help you “hold” these difficult emotions.

2. Less Healthy Coping
If you are feeling overwhelmed, you rely on coping strategies—those strategies that have helped you get through something in the past. Some ways to cope are healthier than others. For example, working out, retreating to nature, or spending time with close friends are healthy ways to cope, but drinking too much or overeating, although these may help numb the pain, are clearly less healthy. The same is true for a child. Healthy coping mechanisms might be chilling out by playing video games or watching TV, but less healthy ways a child may cope might be expressing anger through fighting or acting out, or even harming oneself or others, such as pulling their hair, chewing things, or causing physical harm. If you or your child can only keep overwhelming feelings in check by leaning on these less healthy strategies for coping, it may be time to seek therapy.

3. Strained Relationships
How long has it been since you’ve seen your friends? Or, does your child seem unable to relate with classmates the way he/she used to? Perhaps you are taking out your stress on your partner, and the relationship is suffering. If you or your child can’t seem to connect with people the way you used to or want to, it may be time to seek help.

4. Sick All the Time
People are complete, interconnected systems—just as a chronic illness can affect mental health, so too can mental health create physical illness. If you just can’t seem to get healthy, there’s a chance that chronic stress or other mental health concerns have lowered your immune system and led to other physical conditions. To feel physically well, it might be necessary to reach out to professional support so that you can feel emotionally well.

5. Disconnected From Activities You Love
Of course, while caring for an ill child, you or your child may simply not have the time or ability to participate in the things you love. But if you take an honest look at what’s possible in your life and find you still can’t find joy in the things that once gave you energy, it may be time to seek help. Losing interest or “not finding the time” for things you love may be a symptom of a larger depression.

It’s so easy to focus on the physical health of your child– after all, that’s “what’s clearly wrong.” But failing to take into account both your child’s and your own mental health can have long-term consequences. If you find yourself or your child in one of the above scenarios, please consider seeking the help of a professional therapist so that your minds and spirits are in the best possible shape to get through difficult physical challenges.

Kristi Pikiewicz, PhD, is a psychotherapist in Boulder, CO, specializing in working with parents of chronically ill children. www.KristiPikiewicz.com.

Kristi Pikiewicz
Dr. Pikiewicz earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. She completed pre-doctoral training at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in Ojai, CA, and her post-doctoral internship at the Boulder Institute for Psychotherapy and Research. At both sites, Dr. Pikiewicz worked with a range of adult, adolescent and child clients in individual, couple, family and group settings. She also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Allegheny College and a teaching credential from Western Washington University.
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