Your child has a mental illness. When they were young, you could reassure them and find solutions to their challenges. Now your child is an adult, and knowing how to help is harder.
You’re not alone! Fifty percent of mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% begins by 24. That means there are parents across the country trying to understand how they can help their grown children with mental illness.
It can be difficult to navigate the path of mental illness when your adult child receives a diagnosis. As a parent, you are an essential support system for your child, and you are not helpless.
The most critical action you can take as a parent is to learn about your child’s mental health condition and how they experience it. In past generations, it was more common and accepted to dismiss an issue like major depression as something that should be “snapped out of” or “pushed through” with the right attitude. Today, society views mental illness as a serious medical issue that requires treatment, just like a physical illness. That means there are plenty of resources you can use to educate yourself!
If they have a psychiatric emergency, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. There is also a Crisis Text Line service, which connects a person in need to a counselor via text message.
An adult child with mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, or a personality disorder needs an educated support system. When you learn as much as you can, you can provide the proper feedback and not judge your child’s circumstances. When someone is going through a mental health crisis, the worst thing people closest to them can do is place blame or shame.
Mental illness often has a genetic component, just like some families deal with heart conditions or cancer risks. Look into your family history to see if anyone else has had a similar diagnosis. Finding evidence of their mental health issue or someone for your child to talk to should help them understand they do not have a character flaw. A family member who has successfully experienced treatment can provide invaluable encouragement.
The mental health condition is not the “fault” of your adult son or daughter, but it’s their responsibility to get the treatment they need. This can be a difficult situation to navigate for a few reasons:
- Your adult child may be resistant to get help.
- You are accustomed to doing whatever you can to ease their suffering, but an adult can’t be forced to get treatment.
- They might not believe they have a true mental health disorder that needs professional treatment.
It’s critical for any patient to “buy into” their treatment as prescribed by a health provider. If someone isn’t willing to comply with medication or be honest in therapy, it’s impossible to get better. Your child needs to come to the decision to get better on their own, or their efforts won’t last long.
Everyone is different, so properly encouraging treatment doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. In some cases, you may need to provide the same research and education to them that you’ve done for yourself. In other situations, it may be necessary to rally the family around the person who’s suffering. Sometimes unconditional love and support can be sufficient motivation. If all else fails, consult with a therapist to figure out the best way to make a breakthrough.
Navigate Dual Diagnosis
Understanding and encouraging a child with a mental health disorder is hard enough. Doing so for an adult child who has a dual diagnosis can be extra tricky. A dual diagnosis is mental illness that occurs with a substance abuse disorder or with another disorder, like depression and anxiety. It’s very common. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 7.9 million people in the U.S. experience both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder.
By its very nature, drug addiction is a mental health issue that often provides a dopamine reward. If your adult child has a mental health disorder, they may want to get better in order to alleviate their pain and go on with life. But substance abuse and addiction are mental health issues that incentivize against treatment. Your child may be reluctant to admit they have a substance problem because using helps ease their mental health symptoms.
This is where encouragement may become difficult for you. Before they can address their mental health issue, your child needs to be aware of their substance abuse problem.
Research the best substance abuse treatment centers in your area. Many addiction facilities address co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis). If you know your child has a mental health condition, find a facility that offers holistic treatment. Give your child information about it. If you think an intervention is in order, talk to a professional at one of these treatment centers. They can help you do it right, so you encourage your child rather than shame or anger them.
As a parent, you should provide support and encouragement, but you should also set boundaries and not enable substance abuse. If your adult child agrees to enter a substance abuse recovery program, schedule your own sessions with the counselors. Your presence in your adult child’s life is essential, and you’ll want to ensure that everything you do is in sync with the recovery team’s plan.
Learn About Treatment Options for Mental Illness
Mental health conditions are typically treated through talk therapy, medications, or a combination of both.
Talk therapy is essential for treatment of any mental health condition. It doesn’t have side effects and helps your child understand their feelings, cope, and build strategies for wellness. Talk therapy requires “buy in” from the patient, so encourage your adult child to be as open and honest as possible. Remind them that therapy is a safe place to be honest and that the law requires therapists to keep conversations confidential, unless the patient or someone discussed in a session is at risk of harm or abuse.
To find a therapist, visit the website of your child’s insurance provider. Or go to PsychCentral® at https://psychcentral.com/find-help/. Remind your child that they’re not married to their therapist! They can always switch to someone who helps them better.
For some patients, medications aren’t necessary, and talk therapy does the trick. For others, medication is essential and drastically improve quality of life.
If your adult child is considering medication, look for a psychiatrist with a good reputation. Just like talk therapy, it’s important for the patient to “buy into” their treatment so they adhere to the treatment plan and get the best results possible.
A Different Option: TMS
One cutting-edge treatment is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS treatments are non-invasive and drug-free. They can be used to treat depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD, and they work by reactivating neural pathways that become underactive in patients with depression. TMS therapy is remarkably effective, safe, and provided under the care of a psychiatrist.
If TMS sounds right for your child, HPR Treatment Centers is a reputable provider with locations across the country. They specialize in getting insurance approval set up quickly, so treatment can start right away.
Manage Health Insurance
If your child is under 26, they may still be under your health insurance plan. Even if they have their own coverage, you may need to help them navigate their benefits. Here are some general guidelines:
- Insurance from an employer – If your adult child gets health insurance from their employer, they are covered for mental health treatment.
- Insurance from the Marketplace – If your child doesn’t get insurance from their employer, they should make a point to get it from the individual marketplace. Under Marketplace plans, mental and behavioral health services are essential benefits. Your child can sign up during open enrollment.
- Financial Assistance – Many states provide financial assistance for health insurance, as well as Medicaid for low-income people.
Once they have the insurance card in hand, they can call their provider to get proper information on copays, deductibles, and benefits.
Stay Strong After Recovery
Once your adult child has been through treatment, be aware that relapses can occur. Put that research and education you’ve done to good use, and learn about relapse triggers, so you can help your adult child work through stressful situations and any additional mental health episodes they experience. Check in often to make sure he or she is taking medication as prescribed or seeing a therapist as a part of their routine.
Take Care of Yourself
A mental health crisis is stressful for everyone in the family. As a parent of someone who is affected, it’s critical that you set aside time and energy to maintain your wellness. Talk therapy is an excellent option, as it only requires one hour a week and is highly effective. Seeing a therapist regularly will allow you to sort through your challenges and set proper boundaries. Your therapist will also have the background to provide the right context for what your child is going through. This can give you a “playbook” for the process.
People are often ashamed to talk about mental health due to stigma. It can be frightening when your adult child has a mental health issue, but remember: They—and you—are not alone. One in four Americans has a mental health issue in any given year. It’s very likely that your neighbors or co-workers have dealt with something similar. Just like them, with the right plan and attitude, your child will get through theirs and return to a happy, productive and enjoyable life.