Mental Health and Cerebral Palsy

Did you know that 1 in 4 people with CP has a behavior/mental health condition?

I often hear privately from parents and adults with CP about their struggles with mental health. There is no shame in bringing these issues forward, and many clinicians believe mental health concerns are under-recognized and under-treated among people with CP.

In CP, people struggle with behavioral/mental health conditions for a variety of reasons. They could even be related to several sources that exacerbate each other. So when working through these issues, it’s a good idea to have your medical team do some detective work. Some sources of behavioral/emotional imbalance may include:

1. Unaddressed pain (many potential sources here!)
2. Insomnia (sometimes due to pain as well)
3. Frustration with having a disability
4. Side effects from medication–Maya actually takes an epilepsy medication that can cause an increase in aggressive behavior and/or anger
5. Chemical imbalance related to the initial brain injury
6. A tendency to get overwhelmed more quickly than most people. I have noticed and heard from Maya that her nervous system gets overloaded by things that don’t intellectually make sense to her.
7. Diet. Maya has strong behavioral reactions to certain foods. Although this may not be the case for everyone, over time we have observed positive changes in behavior by removing certain foods from Maya’s diet. I’d like to see more research in this area since there are many people talking about possible connections between the gut and brain. Until then, we are going to go with what we have seen work for Maya. It doesn’t hurt her to stay away from certain foods, and from what we have observed, it definitely has helped.

We found great relief as a family by acknowledging that we needed help finding ways for Maya to manage her emotions and find relief from them. For her we have needed to address multiple potential sources of interference in her mental health that related to pain, medication side-effects, insomnia and what I would refer to as “nervous system sensitivity”. We are still working through some of these issues. There are many resources to address these sources of behavioral/emotional conditions.

One recent surprise and source of relief came from our new dog Jenny. Jenny has a tremendous calming effect on Maya. Maya told us the other day, “Mom and Dad, I can’t believe how much Jenny helps me calm down.”

Michele, CP Daily Living and CP NOW nonprofit