Addressing Mental Health and Food Allergies

Parents – your child’s mental well-being should never be a struggle because of food allergies. But the possibility is there, and should be addressed. YOU are your child’s biggest motivator.

Mental health is not the focus of my blog. But as I’ve worked to deconstruct allergy-related anxiety in my own life, I’ve realized how easy it is to slip into the trap of unnecessary paranoia and hypervigilance. If you’re the parent of a child growing up with severe allergies, there are multiple mental barriers you will/could face in the next few years.

ANXIETY

This could be mild or severe. (And you will likely deal with it every bit as much as your child.) An airborne allergy, especially where anaphylaxis is concerned, is far more difficult to control than many other allergies, and even more likely to cause serious anxiety.

Evidence of allergy-related anxiety in a child could manifest as simply a withdrawn, self-imposed isolation.

DEPRESSION

Depression is a risk in teens especially. And it will likely be caused by isolation. Severe allergies take away your teenager’s ability to fully merge with the crowd. And for most at that age, that’s a huge hindrance. Although it shouldn’t be, and a teen’s sense of value should never come solely from the acceptance of others. (Valuable though it is. More on this in another post.)

Be aware of the risk for depression, especially if you’re working with a teenager.

ADHD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is shown to be more prevalent in children with food allergies. I would recommend you research this topic thoroughly if it relates to your child.

HYPERVIGILANCE

It is worth mentioning that you and/or your food allergic child are at risk for some form of hypervigilance, whether a clinical diagnosis or simple a state of tension and hyper-awareness. Having to protect a child who is too young to do so himself, or having to pull back when a teenager begins spending more time with friends, doing sports, etc., is a source of anxiety for a parent. Recognize this and learn to manage and accept risk with less fear.

Dealing with Anxiety/Depression

There’s nothing you want your child or teenager to go through less than severe anxiety or depression, much less when it’s directly related to anaphylaxis or a serious allergy. But one of these two mental conditions are likely to arise, even if mildly, and should be addressed.

  • Learn to manage risk.
    Risk CAN be managed, and learning how to do so without fear is your best defense against depression.
  • Consider an allergen detection service dog.
    I know, if you follow my blog, you knew this was going to show up in here somewhere. 😉 But I’m a firm believer in the ability of these highly trained service dogs to change a person’s life.

Dealing with Isolation

In the case of most allergic reactions, defending against isolation can be done in the steps mentioned above. However, also consider deliberately planning events for your child in semi-safe environments to build their confidence. As a food allergy parent, your first job is to keep that child safe. HOWEVER, just as important is training them to keep themselves safe. If they don’t have confidence in their ability to assess the risk of a situation and respond accordingly, they will be at a far greater risk later in life.

Children should be taught as young as possible to manage risk (including carrying medical supplies, injecting an EpiPen, asking for help, confidently and politely refusing an unsafe snack, etc.).

Please realize I am NOT a professional. I’m just a severely allergic teen who wants to help other teens break away from the self-imposed (and society-imposed) limitations of living with food allergies.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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