Raising a Mentally Ill Child

You never pictured the day where you would hear a doctor officially diagnose your child with a significant and weighty mental illness. In fact, you may not have even realized that mental illnesses and conditions were extremely common among pediatric patients.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that one in five children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen will experience mental health issues each year. Younger children have a slightly better outlook, with only 13 percent experiencing a mental health condition between the ages of eight and fifteen.

What do you need to know about raising a mentally ill child?

Parents should know that there is hope, help, and healing available for their child’s illness, no matter what it may be. There are a few steps that you can take right now to get started on the path to success for you and for your child.

Educate yourself.

You may think that you know everything there is to know about common mental health issues. However, this is a great time to start researching the causes, the expectations for daily life, and the potential treatments a doctor may recommend. Does it require medication, intensive therapy, or behavior modification? Become a voracious reader and avid researcher so you can strongly advocate for the services your child needs.

Surround yourself with the right people.

You will need a treatment team to be involved in actively seeking out recovery for your child. Whether you need a psychiatrist, licensed counselor, behavior interventionist, or some combination of services, you will need to find the best of the best. This can vary depending on your family’s specific needs, so take the time to interview potential team members. Talk with them extensively about your expectations and their skillset. Surrounding yourself with the right people is about more than just your child’s treatment team though.

You will need support and encouragement as a parent of a mentally ill child. Find people who understand or are willing to take the time to listen to your unique struggles. The willingness of friends to bring a meal, help with watching your other children, and simply take time to listen can’t be understated.

Take care of yourself.  

Taking care of a mentally ill child can be draining, both physically and mentally. Emotional energy is expended quickly when you jump from crisis to crisis. Exhaustion tends to run high, particularly if your child falls at the more extreme end of the mental health spectrum. Don’t forget to find respite or take time to enjoy activities that restore you and make you feel rested for the days ahead. You and your child will benefit from having a renewed perspective on a given struggle. 

Find your new normal. 

Perhaps the most difficult part of raising a mentally ill child is the struggle to find your “new normal.” What may have worked fine prior to your child’s diagnosis may not be serving you well in this new season of life. Balance should be a priority, and you will need to make adjustments to your other obligations, responsibilities, and expectations.

You may need to embrace the possibility that the expectations you had for your life and your child’s future could be dramatically altered. Accept your child for who he or she is in this moment, but never stop seeking help and treatment.

Raising a mentally ill child comes with a unique set of struggles that you will need to face as time moves on. According to research, half of all lifetime mental illnesses are present by the age of fourteen. This means that you are in good company, as many parents face the daily reality of raising mentally ill children. Take the time to follow these steps to give you and your child an early start to success and healing.

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