Raising a Teen with Mental Health Disorders

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It has cracked me open, so that I thought the pieces would never come back together. But, like the daisies and coneflowers that I hack down to the ground in preparation for spring, the places that are cut are the places where new shoots grow. Hiding the knives. Locking up the household cleaners.

When to Seek Help

Noticing new cuts on his arms. Wondering if I will find him dead in his room in the morning. Letting go of the expectations and hopes and dreams. That he can, very occasionally, laugh again.


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It is a heartbreaking thing to know that your child does not want to live anymore. This sweet soul who used to sing and dance around the house, to canter like a horse around the yard, to lead the neighborhood kid gang in complex games with plastic swords—now wants to die.

When nobody knows your sorrow: On parenting a child with mental illness | A Parent | The Blogs

Now he cuts himself just so that he will feel something. And nothing we do seems to help. And it takes its toll. Living with a severely depressed person is like living with a black hole. When at its worst, everyone is sucked into the blackness. Nothing escapes. Nothing breaks through the darkness. It takes a toll on the family, on the friendships, on the marriage, but most of all on me, the main caregiver, the mom.

Setting Consequences for Teenagers - Parenting Tips

Not to mention the endless appointments and phone calls: psychiatrist, psychologist both an hour away , teacher conferences, school meetings, family doctor, health insurance company, massage and physical therapy for the anxiety he carries in his body, and never-ending expensive trips to the pharmacy. On top of all that is the burden of the medical bills. Most of the time I am able to push through. But sometimes, I hit a wall. Sometimes I shut down. My face fell and something in me snapped shut like a clam.

I went to my bedroom and did not make eye contact with anyone for 24 hours. I had to hide. I was sucked dry and weary to the bone. It turns out parental love is not as unconditional as we thought.

Learning to Help Your Child and Your Family

There is a breaking point. There are in fact many breaking points. But then we pick ourselves up off the bathroom floor and we go back. And that—that is the courage, the heroic courage of the parent and the caregivers, the quiet warriors of our weary world. Oh, your kid is on the debate team?

What to Do if You Notice Symptoms

My son was nearly institutionalized for being suicidal and I had to take away anything sharp and his belts from his room. Want to meet for coffee and chat about it? Before committing to a therapist, be clear about what you want to accomplish. Come to your first meeting prepared with questions, such as what kind of progress you should expect, and how it will be accomplished and measured.

Scheduling a quick meeting with her teacher at the beginning of each new school year got our relationship off to a positive start. Volunteering in class and on field trips gave me the chance to see how Sadie was functioning in the school environment, how her behavior compared to that of her peers, and whether certain situations were causing her problems. Like many kids with bipolar disorder, ADHD, and other psychiatric disorders, Sadie has significant executive function problems that make it difficult for her to organize, process, and access information efficiently.

I also email her teachers when she is struggling at home or going through a medication change that could affect her behavior in class. As soon as we got the diagnosis, I told Sadie that she had bipolar disorder, and she has always been comfortable talking about it. But many parents I know avoid labeling their children. Deciding who to tell and how much to reveal is also a personal choice.

That was a big mistake. Children with ADHD , autism, sensory issues, dyslexia , and other disorders often have similar symptoms and face the same struggles in school: weak executive function , difficulty controlling impulses and emotions, and social problems. In addition to providing support and friendship, this group of savvy, knowledgeable parents has become my go-to source for information on everything from doctors and therapists to schools and specialized programs.

Charting her moods helped me learn to recognize signs that she was becoming unstable, as well as potential triggers. For example, I now know to expect a surge in her irritability and anxiety levels several weeks before the start of a new school year.

MORE IN LIFE

Arranging a quick introduction to her new teacher before school kicks off helps ease some of her stress. And it helps her therapist work with her on specific problems as they come up. You can find a variety of free mood charts online at The Balanced Mind Foundation , or simply jot notes in a journal or on your smartphone. Stay connected At first, I avoided forums for parents of kids with pediatric bipolar disorder, but I now visit them regularly when I have questions about medication, alternative therapies, school problems, and other matters related to her illness.

The website also provides online support groups, articles, brochures, and a bounty of other useful information, including tips for educating school staff and treatment guidelines. Diagnosis — a moving target? Not only can children with the same diagnosis have very different symptoms, but the same illness can have radically different symptoms and strains. As psychiatry continues to evolve and science reveals more about mental illness, diagnosis and treatment options continue to change as well. In the past, kids with these symptoms were often incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder — or not diagnosed at all and unable to get help.

To further complicate matters, the National Institute of Mental Health recently shook up the psychiatry world by withdrawing its support of the DSM. The journey continues Sadie is in a much happier place today — she has friends and many passions.

A long streak of stability will be disrupted for reasons neither I nor her treatment team can always explain. The jury is mixed about how kids with mental disorders like bipolar disorder and ADHD fare as adults. Some get better, others continue to suffer and can even get worse.