Within a 24-hour period during the past week, I spoke with two moms who desperately struggle with their daughters. One daughter, who’s 11, hasn’t been diagnosed with a mental illness as of yet but the mom and dad know something’s up. The mom describes their life as a living hell, consumed by their daughter’s out-of-control behavior and fearful of what the girl’s adult life might hold in the future. She said she felt helpless and hopeless, not sure of what to do or who to turn to.
The other mom’s daughter just entered residential treatment about a week ago. She and her partner will be spending their first weekend with their teenage daughter attending family therapy, establishing boundaries and a new relationship in an environment that is highly structured and secure. Like the first mom, they have been to hell and back and have felt desperate and hopeless about the future.
Each mom questioned whether their daughters could ever be helped and if any of them would be able to experience happiness. I encouraged both moms that reaching out for support, asking questions and refusing to give up were the most important components of getting help for their daughters. Equally critical are early diagnosis and intervention for kids who struggle. As I always say, kids don’t want to misbehave. They do the best they can with the tools they have.
What I’ve learned through Chloe’s mental illness and my own is that you have to let go of both social and cultural expectations and do what’s best for yourself and your family. Let’s face it, there is a huge amount of stigma around mental illness. It’s not easy admitting or explaining that there’s something wrong with your child’s brain that makes her so paranoid, anxious and depressed that she can’t leave the house. Or that your brain can’t stop obsessing about germs, causing you to wash your hands 200 times a day. Then when you are ready to get help, the resources and answers are lacking, making you feel all the more helpless and hopeless. Did you know that 20% of teens are affected by some type of mental illness? 25% of adults experience a mental illness during their lives. Yet, we’re too ashamed to talk openly about it?
What can you do if you have a youth that has a mental illness or is experiencing signs?
- www.NAMI.org is a great place to start. This organization provides information about local resources, information and tips, a hotline and a variety of other supports.
- Take care of yourself as best you can. This can include nutrition, exercise, healthy sleep, meditation, therapy, friends or whatever makes you feel refreshed, strong and positive. If you feel good and can think clearly, you’ll be able to take better care of your family member.
- Ask for help. Taking care of a mentally ill family member is consuming and will suck the life out of anybody. If you don’t have the time or energy to to do household chores, errands or other day-to-day tasks, hire someone, ask another family member, friend or neighbor.
- Trust your intuition and gut. If something doesn’t feel right about what a doctor or professional says, don’t settle, push for answers or get another opinion.
- Contact an advocate for support. www.NAMI.org provides several advocacy options.