Ensure your child is properly diagnosed and receives appropriate treatment.
In addition to showing your child the love and support they need, it’s imperative you help your child living with mental illness receive a proper and thorough diagnosis followed by a treatment plan by a mental health professional. This is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the process, as it’s common for a child to exhibit symptoms from multiple conditions. Each illness is different, and thus the symptoms being exhibited can often be misdiagnosed.
Find a mental health professional that you’re comfortable with and trust so you can fully understand your child’s condition and create a treatment plan.
Dr. Bobbi Wegner, a clinical psychologist at Boston Behavioral Medicine says, “Mental health issues often are managed with some combination of medication and therapy, so having a solid team of specialists – from a psychiatrist to a school social worker – is crucial…Therapy is based on connection. At the end of the day, the patient is the consumer. If it’s not working, there are many other people out there who can provide more support.”
Process the diagnosis.
Once your child has been diagnosed, it’s important you understand your response and make sense of your feelings. It’s normal to grieve the life you had imagined for your child before their diagnosis. It’s also normal to feel a range of emotions, such as anger, sadness, confusion or frustration, but the best way you can make your child feel accepted and loved is to process the emotions so that you can fully be there to support them.
Keep lines of communication always open.
Demonstrate your acceptance and care for your child by always taking the time to listen attentively about how they are doing and feeling. Remind them that they are so much more than their mental illness.
Ensure that your home environment is comfortable and friendly for your child.
Attempt to keep your home calm and as stress-free as possible. Perhaps let your child decorate
their room so that it provides a sanctuary for joy. Experts also suggest having structure, organization, and a consistent daily schedule keeps frustration and additional behavioral problems at a minimum.
According to Stephen Wallace, the President and Director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), structure can be crucial to creating a low-stress environment; creating a consistent schedule provides stability and cohesion. “If we constantly change how we respond to kids [with mental health diagnoses], it’ll put them on edge,” Wallace says.
See support for yourself.
Seek comfort and support from other parents who are in a similar situation. Support groups either in your community or online are a fantastic place to vent, share information, and have your frustrations heard in a non-judgemental environment.
Consider getting support for your entire family
A child’s mental illness diagnosis affects the whole family, so family therapy sessions are often recommended as a way of opening lines of communication and helping siblings understand the condition further.
Constantly remind yourself and your child that they are NOT defined by their diagnosis.
Having a mental illness does not define a person, and is only a part of who they are. Focusing on your child’s talents, strengths and other valuable qualities will remind all of you that their mental illness is only one part of their whole identity.
It’s natural for parents to focus so much on their child that they neglect themselves, however taking care of your own needs is equally asimportant. In doing so, you’re ultimately helping your child as well. Dr. Wegner says, “Modeling good behavior, such as sleeping enough, eating well, exercising often, and seeing your own therapist is setting an important example for your child.”
Your Child, Your Journey
“My message to you is, never give up hope, and never stop encouraging your child to accomplish their own “optimal outcome.” It’s not going to be easy, and you’ll likely have to make compromises—but with your support and love I know your child can build a life, too,” says Wortmann about his experience.
Quite often parents are their own harshest critics. When faced with adversity, it’s easy to second guess your choices or lack confidence in your parenting abilities. Particularly when raising a child with mental illness, remember that like all parents, mistakes are almost always inevitable, but…
Be gentle with yourself.
Life does not always go as planned, however the most important thing you can do is to love, support, and accept your child, and remind yourself that in navigating your child’s journey, you are never alone. If you suspect your child may have a mental illness and are looking for support or resources, please call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI or visit https://www.nami.org/.
You can click here to learn more about what The United Brain Association is doing by way of research regarding a number of mental illnesses and other neurological diseases. Also be sure to sign up here for important updates and to receive news about current and upcoming research projects!