Just six treatment sessions designed to help moms of kids with developmental disabilities manage their stress can go a long way toward reducing depression and anxiety, researchers say.
Parents of children with developmental disabilities often experience greater stress than moms and dads of typically-developing kids. Nonetheless, most interventions target the needs of their children with disabilities exclusively.
Now, researchers say more attention ought to be paid to the unique needs of these parents.
In a trial of two treatment programs, Elisabeth Dykens of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development and her colleagues found that weekly sessions with trained peer mentors could help moms conquer their stress and, in turn, interact more constructively with their children with disabilities.
For the study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, 243 mothers of children with developmental disabilities were randomly assigned to participate in one of two interventions.
Some parents took part in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program which included breathing exercises, deep-belly breathing, meditation and gentle movement. Others participated in a program called positive adult development that focused on exercises promoting gratitude, forgiveness, grace and optimism in order to temper emotions like guilt, worry and pessimism.
Both interventions were led by other mothers of children with disabilities who received four months of training on the curriculums.
At the outset, assessments showed that 85 percent of the mothers had elevated stress, 48 percent were clinically depressed and 41 percent had anxiety disorders. After completing a half-dozen, hour-and-a-half sessions, mothers in both treatment groups experienced less stress, anxiety and depression while reporting better sleep and life satisfaction. The moms also had fewer dysfunctional parent-child interactions, the study found.