Mother’s participation in health-promoting activities is one of the strongest factors of mental health

By Helen Bourke-Taylor
MONASH University, Victoria, Australia

Mothers of school-aged children with disabilities often face numerous challenges, including sometimes difficult caregiving duties on top of their other life roles (working, caring for others). Researchers have reported that mothers of children with disabilities experience significantly higher stress levels and have more mental health issues than mothers of typically developing children.

What did you do in your research?
The goal of our study was to understand the health and situation of a group of 152 mothers of school-aged children in Victoria, Australia. The mothers were sent a survey, along with a follow-up phone interview to investigate their health status and factors that challenge or support mothers in their caregiving role.

What did you find out?
Several factors were challenging to mothers including, challenging behavior exhibited by child with disability, having younger children in the family, sleep interruption, and the inability to work as desired due to caregiver duties. The four strongest factors of maternal mental health identified in the research were:
  1. The frequency of mothers’ participation in health-promoting activities (e.g., active and passive recreational pursuits, time with socially supportive others, time out and actively planning healthy lifestyle choices);
  2. Maternal empowerment over their child’s disability, needs and family matters (e.g., access to information about their child’s condition and service needs);
  3. The child’s emotional functioning; and
  4. The degree to which the child’s service needs were unmet.

What are the take-home messages?
There is a common belief that the challenges faced by mothers of children with disability stem from grief and sadness related to their child’s disability. However, the current research did not show this. Instead, the research suggests there are a number of other factors that influence maternal mental health and wellbeing. This is important because service systems and professionals can change what and how they provide services for families of children with disabilities, so that they are more effective.

To learn more about these findings contact Helen Bourke-Taylor.

Full Journal Article
Bourke-Taylor, H., Pallant, J. F., Law, M., & Howie, L. (2012). Predicting mental health among mothers of school-aged children with developmental disabilities: The relative contribution of child, maternal and environmental factors. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33(6), 1732–1740.

Healthy Mom, Healthy Family: An Education Day to Improve the Health and Wellness of Mothers of Children with Disabilities Workshop - To schedule a workshop contact Helen Bourke-Taylor.

The Healthy Mother, Healthy Family website is a health promotion website for mothers of children with disabilities, is currently under construction in Australia, and will be launched later this year!