What Can I Do if My Child Is Struggling With Mental Illness?
Updated: May 5
Mental illness is on the rise and not just in certain geographical regions — it is a problem that exists all over the world. In young people, mental illness is growing at a rapid rate. According to the National Mental Health Association, one in five children have or will develop some type of mental health issue. If you're a parent whose child is struggling with mental illness, below are some ways you can help your child cope with their diagnosis.
Accept Your Child’s Diagnosis
It is a challenge to have a child diagnosed with a mental illness, especially if you do not have much experience in or knowledge about mental health issues. The human mind can be complex, and there is not a simple answer as to why one person develops a mental illness and another one doesn't.
Your child may display extremes in emotions or behaviors, and your response to these behaviors could have a major impact on their development and your home's environment. You may even question your ability to parent and where you went wrong, which could cause you to react unconstructively. It is essential that your child understands that their diagnosis doesn't make them who they are and their life is still of great worth.
It is not uncommon for parents to experience negative thoughts and feelings toward the situation. This may also cause you to feel sad for your child. About 12.5 percent of teens have experienced depression or currently struggle with it, so your child is not alone. Acceptance of your child's diagnosis is key in order for you to keep pressing forward in the healthiest way possible.
Become Educated and Do Your Research
Acceptance will come much easier if you take the time to research and understand their diagnosis. You don't necessarily need to understand all the scientific research and clinical terms. Still, it will help you to learn about typical behaviors at different life stages and how you can best help your child through those stages.
As time goes on, you will have greater clarity when you remain educated and up to date on their mental illness. Knowledge truly is power, and it will give you the freedom to better respond to any unexpected or strange behaviors your child may exhibit rather than taking it personally or possibly lashing back at them.
Listen to Them and Avoid Judgement
While it is understandable that you may be having a difficult time adjusting to the diagnosis and some of their behaviors, your child is also having a difficult time with it. They may not feel safe or comfortable sharing their thoughts or feelings openly, so it is important to actively listen to them and avoid judgement when they share.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Have you ever tried to tell someone what you thought or felt about something and felt dismissed or judged? Remember that feeling, and do your best to be the opposite for your child because they really need to be loved and heard, not judged and forgotten.
Connect With Other Parents and Support Groups
Finding a group of supportive friends or joining a support group could be highly beneficial for you. This will allow you to connect with other parents or family members who may be struggling with many of the same things as you are and help you not to feel alone.
Support groups are great for sharing resources, providing a safe outlet, and sharing new ideas and perspectives that could help to further change your thinking and approach to your child's diagnosis and behaviors. These types of environments could also help lift some of the burdens or stress you may be feeling. Just as your child needs empathy and understanding, you do as well.
Don’t Treat Them Differently
A diagnosis for mental illness doesn't mean you are required to cater to your child's every need. This could be damaging to them and their progress, and if there are siblings, it may cause them to feel left out or sidelined, which could cause issues for them later on down the line. Your child can still be taught boundaries, responsibility, and commitment, you just may need to approach how you teach them a little differently. Mental illness or not, every single child in your household will have different behaviors and personalities, so your approach to each of them will need to be modified regardless.
Be Patient With Yourself and the Process
It is not possible to be completely prepared and ready to handle a mental illness, which is why you need to be patient with yourself and the adjustment period. How long adjustment takes will depend on many different factors, and there really isn't a manual or set timeline for this. It is important that you do what you can to remain as fluid with the changes as possible and avoid trying to control something you cannot change or control. You also need to be okay with the fact that you aren't going to get everything right or perfect. Be easy on yourself, take it one day at a time, and do your best with what you have.
Remember that you do not need to do this alone, and you do have access to the health professionals and clinic that diagnosed your child. Be sure to discuss different treatment and therapy options for your child with their therapist or doctor.
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