The benefits of group therapy and women’s group sessions are widely known. They help people feel supported and less alone with their problems. Now, new research from Vanderbilt University indicates that peer-led support groups that target the wellbeing of mothers with developmentally disabled children can reduce maternal stress, depression and anxiety.
The mental health of these mothers is critically important since parents of children with autism and other developmental issues experience higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than mothers of healthy kids. While the children are most likely already getting autism treatment, the mothers may put all their energy into helping the children and neglect themselves in the process. As they age, this could lead to physical medical problems.
Findings from the Vanderbilt study, as well as previous research, showed that many mothers of children with autism and other developmental disabilities have a blunted cortisol response, which is indicative of chronic stress. Peer-led support groups were found to be especially beneficial because the women felt they had a safe space to share their stories and receive support.