My children each have different lives and different diagnoses. And honestly if our lives weren’t personally impacted by mental illness and other developmental challenges we probably would be uneducated and have no knowledge that these stigmas or labels exist. Unfortunately, they do exist and it’s tough enough to watch my children and others who have battled through a “mental health war” and survived through some of the most traumatizing moments in their lives, being stigmatized and labeled by some of the most misinformed people. Sadly, with my own experience, even some of the social workers and mental health counselors or psychologists fell into this category of stigmatizing their patients. How do I know? Because I witnessed it happen to my own family. When does it end? Where does it end? Where do we draw the line? How do we enforce change?
I’m so tired of the media and social media outlets posting and airing crap stories or voicing opinions, just to get a reaction, to get a click of a thumbs up or a like or a follower. And yet they have never been impacted or touched by mental illness but they have something to say! It’s frustrating to watch the people who aren’t properly educated or lived through the trauma with a person who has battled through a mental health war, give all these false perceptions. Every time there is a horror story or something dark, or a heinous crime the media ties the individual to being “mentally ill” so now everyone who isn’t educated and properly informed, believes that every individual that truly has a mental illness is now this “evil” or “crazy” person. Lawyers convince jury members and judges of the same to get their clients a lighter sentence. In my own belief, it is the evil practices and dark meditations of a persons thoughts that cause them to commit horrific crimes and kill people. Evil people are who do evil things. I will say I also believe it’s possible that an evil person could have a mental illness in some situations, but what point I’m trying to make is that I don’t believe it’s the mental illness that caused a person to do evil. I just don’t believe that. Having been through some very low points with my children and watching them suffer and battle through their mental health disorders, specifically episodes of psychosis, depression, anxiety, hallucinations and being in an altered mental state, not one time had they ever did anything evil. Never once had they ever threatened to harm another person or themselves. They may have expressed frustrations and anger because they weren’t able to be rational in those moments but they weren’t “crazy” or “evil”. Their brains were malfunctioning, causing them to become confused and disoriented. In those moments, they needed someone to be patient with them, not take things personal and realize that their brain was sick and that what was happening to them, was through no fault of their own.
I’m not going to make it sound like it is an easy thing to be around or that it is the same for every family that goes through such a traumatic time. But I am just sharing my own life experience with raising my children. And what I did to help them overcome as well as myself. Because what others may not realize is that it’s not just the individual who has the “mental break” who’s life is impacted but their loved ones suffer right along with them. At least in my family that was the case. Every one handles situations different and to each their own. So here are the questions for people when their in crisis. What do you do when your child suddenly isn’t the child you’ve known them to be their whole life? What do you say to them when they don’t believe anything is wrong? What do you when they refuse to take their medications? What do you do when they are extremely paranoid? How do you survive when your home becomes a “war zone” and your walking on eggshells and trying to avoid triggering them? What do you do when your child is angry and doesn’t understand why it’s happening again and they lose hope? How do you get them to feel comfortable leaving the house? How do you get them to trust again? Who do you call for help when things can no longer be managed at home? What should you say when your every word you speak is under scrutiny? These are just some of the questions that came up in our situations, each time. Unfortunately, there is no written rule, or guide to guaranteed success of what is effective during these times. There is no right answer to these questions. However, I will share with you, what worked for us at times, yes I said “at times” because it didn’t always work.
First and foremost, I’m not a doctor and I’m certainly not a professional therapist, I’m just a mother who’s been through life with my own children who have suffered mental declines and some low points of depression and some high ups of mania and euphoria. Now with that being said, here are some ideas to consider of what my strategies and plans my husband and I did.
- Don’t take anything they say, personal. This can be difficult not to, but you have to understand that it’s their illness taking precedence. They’ll apologize later, at least that’s what our children did.
- Practice Active listening. Active listening is letting them speak and patiently waiting your turn to reiterate what they just stated to you.
- If you believe in Jesus, than pray and trust in Him. I will be honest, there are some situations that you cannot just pray away though. Or so it seemed in my case. You just had to pray for the strength to make it through.
- Keep things real for them. Meaning that you “feed the beast” as I once heard a psychiatrist say. If they are talking about something that is delusional than you try to accept it as their reality instead of arguing with them or trying to persuade them otherwise. Remember they are in an altered mental state so they aren’t able to be rational at this time. For example: If they say they believe Aliens are invading their room at night, then you repeat, in the form of a question, “Aliens are invading your room at night?” and allow them to answer. And you can try and redirect by changing the subject to other topics but it doesn’t always work.
- Don’t feel guilty for forcing them to get treatment, the sooner the better. This can be extremely challenging especially if they don’t believe their in need of help. And if you’re a loving mom like me, it tears at your heart strings to feel as though you are betraying your child and going against their wishes. And it can take a lot of persuasion and you may need to actually call 911 for help. BUT if you do, I strongly suggest that you fully explain in details to the operator of your situation. For us, our children weren’t violent or a threat to others so we explained they were in need of mental health treatment, there are no weapons, and we just needed help to escort them to a hospital. Upon arrival of the officers, I asked them if they were trained to handle individuals with mental illness and they said no, so I expressed my needs before allowing them to enter my home. 911 will almost always dispatch police. Some states and counties have mental health professionals available, on-duty to come along, but in most cases not so.
- Be willing to manage their medications because most adolescent children will forget or won’t take it. Get a daily pill organizer or if your pharmacy offers pillow packs, do it. Don’t refill the empty slots until the whole entire week has been given. Otherwise you may double dose. Use a calendar as a back up to check off each day only after you’ve given it to them. If you just try and give it out of the bottle each day, it can be hard to remember if you’ve already done it, since each day can begin to get so routine, you’ll question, “did I already give them their medications?” It happens. That’s why I’m sharing this piece of advice here.
- If necessary while they are stable again, have them sign a medical release of information giving you permission to their medical records and ability to talk with the counselor and doctors. Due to mental health privacy laws, minors are able to make their own decisions and age varies depending on the state you live in, for some it as young as 12. They are protected by HIPPA and you as the parent don’t have rights to their mental health records in most situations, unless you get someone to break the law. In our state the age is 13 for Washington.
- Attend the appointments with them so if they are unwilling to share important details, you are able to give this information to their treating physician. Often times, they will not want to talk about what just occurred or they will leave out pertinent information because they just want to put it behind them and move on. Be patient with the process and make sure the medication is effective, otherwise inquire about changing it. Seek the best medicine with the lowest side effects. Any good psychiatrist is going to have this as their own concern. Some that aren’t so good will subscribe anything. Just speaking from experience. Don’t feel as though you have to stick with one you don’t like. And if you think the diagnosis is in question, seek a second opinion. Because symptoms can look very similar of several different diagnoses. You know your child better than any person who gets to visit with them for up to 30 mins.
- Be prepared to become your child’s advocate. If their a student in school, inquire with the counselor about getting either a 504 plan with written accommodations or an IEP for specific services. Just know that IEP’s don’t follow if they plan to attend college. And if they have to miss a ton of school, inquire about a home health tutor provided by the district. You might also be able to file for disability benefits for them depending on their diagnosis.
- If you have medical expenses that are your patient responsibility, inquire with the treating hospital/clinic about financial assistance or charity care programs. It could help reduce your out of pocket costs. This is especially helpful if your not able to afford it because you’ve had to miss work and go on FMLA unpaid leave to supervise their care. It’s usually worth completing the application.
- Be ready to wear your counselor hat. They will need to feel loved, accepted, safe, and reassured after they recover and come back home. They may or may not want to talk about it. Leave it up to them. Mine like to reflect at times, so I just listen and try my best to normalize things for them. Be their biggest support system because the world is an ugly and often cruel place at times. When they come home it should be their safe place. Refrain from saying, “it won’t happen again” because it very well could happen again and then you will lose trust if and when it does. Stay honest but hopeful. Get back to enjoying life while things are good.
So that was a little bit of our experience in what worked for us and what helped our children with their roads to recovery. It is also important that you have someone YOU can go and talk to. Whether it be your own therapist or a trustworthy person. But for me, I am part of a support group through nami.org in my local county and I have a therapist when needed. I am also an advocate for mental health awareness and I assist a church ministry that is headed by my husband which is specifically catered to other families like our own. Families that consist of loved ones who have mental health challenges, or special health care challenges. It has helped me fulfill my own purpose.
Well that is all for this article. I hope that I was able to be of help to at least one person who reads this. And I hope that for anyone who is brand new to learning about mental illness, that maybe you’ll have an informative outlook going forward. I also want to encourage anyone who may be suffering at this moment, that this too shall pass. With time, it will get better. Everyone’s “time” is different. Everyone’s journey is unique. What works for some, doesn’t work for all. But when you do find what works for you, stick with it. And don’t ever let others silence you from sharing your story. Share it, because it will likely inspire others to break free. And lastly, PLEASE STOP STIGMATIZING AND LABELING people with mental illness as something they are not!
Thank you for reading.