Guest Post By Mike Bailey
As a parent, watching your child, at any age, growing up and suffering daily with a mental illness can be difficult. Difficult because you don’t understand it at first unless you yourself have been through it. Difficult because you feel so helpless and that you can’t wave the proverbial magic wand and just make them better and better than you. We all want the best for our children.
As I read the post, How Parents and Spouses Can Help With Mental Illness I thought of all the things we as parents didn’t know, took for granted and watched on the sidelines not knowing what to do, what to say and how to help.
I thought I would post a response as a parent and provide a few pointers that we learned along the way. Some tips for those parents be part of the solution instead of hoping that the medical practitioners have all the answers and will take care of your child or that it will simply get better.
Get Involved Early
Today there is much more information and awareness campaigns about mental illness on TV and other social media. Mental Illness can come in all forms but I am focusing on our experience with a child that suffers from depression and anxiety for over 20 years.
At the early stage, in the teens we, as parents, thought it was simply a teenager thing of laziness, not caring and the stages of life of that generation. We were wrong.
Don’t think you know everything about teenagers because you watch a tv show or your neighbor knows best. Spend some time with your child and probe, in an understanding way as to how they are feeling, how often. Read some medical articles or search for information on the internet. Don’t pretend you are a doctor and try to figure things out yourself.
Being Nonjudgmental About What the Person is Going Through.
Children are, most times, not willing to discuss their feelings with parents so seek out other alternatives and get them to agree to talk openly with someone they trust and be willing to allow them to talk to you if you can.
This action alone tells your child that you care about them, you believe in them and are willing to help in any way. They have to trust you and realize you really want to help understand what they are going through and you will be non-judgmental about the issues.
Helping to Make Sure you are Getting the Proper Treatments.
Sending your child to the doctor or counselor is not enough. It’s just the second step in the process. But here too, you as the parent, need to be involved. When a younger person, not yet confident in challenging a medical practitioner or knowing what questions to ask that can alert the doctor to probing deeper.
Many times your child may forget what the doctor or counselor actually said or really understand it. Many times the solution is to simply take a pill and the patient is happy with an easy and quick solution. But is it the right one.
Do become your child’s advocate no matter how old or mature they are. Your life experiences and your observations of them, on a regular basis, is a key to help your medical practitioner give the best treatment possible. You as the parent need to challenge the medical field to do better. Better medication, effects of medication, putting together a treatment plan that you are involved in and understand.
You as the parent must take the lead and ensure all your child’s medical team of social workers, Doctors, Psychiatrists, and other mental health contacts together along with you and your child in the same room and come up with a fulsome plan that everyone is involved in and commits to. Don’t assume they will do this on their own. If you do, you would be wrong.
You as the parent need to ensure that your child understands this and agrees to. Put it in writing with them and have them sign it as a contract. While this may seem a bit ridiculous and unnecessary it isn’t. Writing things down and signing really does help put things in perspective of the importance and commitment both you and your child are making to the medical team and each other.
A written agreement really works. Both you and your child must decide together what you want in that document. Things like open communication even when it may seem contentious. Both know expectations of each other. Coming to you when things are really bad and letting you know if there is a trigger, a feeling of uselessness and yes even suicide. You are agreeing not to be judgmental or blowing this off. You both have a role to play. You are the first responder to help your child through the ups and downs and when to take further action.
Getting them to Appointments
By you making commitments to ensuring your child gets to appointments goes a long way. They may not want to go because of no energy, no interest or feeling it’s useless. The excuses will be many. You must commit to getting them to appointments near and far every time even if it’s as simple as getting a commitment or convincing to leaving work and driving them. Use your friends or any means that works for you.
Ask your child if you can attend some of their appointments so both they and the medical team know you want to be and stay involved. Suggest that you go in with your child to ask questions, a brief update. Let the doctor and your child know up front that if either one of them wants to talk alone that you will leave when you have your questions answered about what you can do or next steps to maintain your child’s trust and some confidentiality to things they are not ready to share with you as a parent. Trust me, they will when they are ready.
Become an Advocate
Another key part of your child’s treatment is to become an acknowledged and documented advocate for everything critical for medical, therapy, social assistance, school, banks etc. You never know when your child or adult child will take a plunge and you need to step in on their behalf. You may have to deal with financial matters that at certain times they are not capable of due to their emotional state. This is not the time to be a typical parent and blow it off saying,
“well they have to learn sometime” Dealing with mental illness is tough enough.
Being an advocate allows you to access certain information to help them make good decisions and taking care of their business when they are not capable. Let them concentrate on their emotions and feelings and treatments. But keep them apprised of what and why the actions you are taking to assist in these matters. Talk it through. Don’t belittle them in any way for things that have happened because they didn’t take care of it before.
Research Treatment Plans.
A child that is struggling with mental illness does not have the energy to research possible treatments that are out there that have been recommended or to talk to his or her medical team about. That really needs to be your role.
Look at all the options of medications and non-medicated treatments. No one treatment works for everyone. Some may work for a while and then stop. Some are expensive, some are not. Look at the treatments, costs, and locations yourself. Pick out a few that you think might work for your child and their specific situation. Talk to them about it and give them the information you found. Let them know you want to talk to the medical team about it. You both may have questions. Decide what you and your child are willing to commit to then go to a medical appointment.
The Best Treatment
Never forget you are only the parents first, you are only 1 person, you are not alone, and it’s not up to you to fix your child’s condition. The best treatment no matter how long it takes is for you to love unconditionally, be supportive, be understanding, be there when they really need you and make good suggestions.
These simple everyday suggestions will make a huge difference in the day to day living of anyone living with a mental illness and can sometimes be the best treatment that is consistent. You can’t fix it but you can make living a little easier for everyone.
Be persistent with the medical team and consistent with your help and guidance. Believe in yourself and believe in your child. Do what you can and don’t feel guilty about what you can’t. And never forget to take care of the caregiver which is you.