For Parents 

Having a child with a mental health condition can be challenging, but there are ways to help make things easier.  Begin by taking notice of your children’s moods, behaviors and emotions. Early intervention, especially with signs of psychosis, is critical because mental health conditions often get worse without treatment.

Many conditions are reoccuring and periods of strong symptoms may come and go. Symptoms aren’t visible all the time. Children may also hide certain symptoms by saying and doing what they believe is expected of them.

 

You as a parent only want what is best for your child and a mental illness can change our ideas of what we hope for in their future. What each child’s future holds may not be clear, but overcoming fear-driven thinking and using available resources helps put your child on the best course for finding their unique and meaningful place in the world.

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Noticing Symptoms


Trying to tell the difference between what expected behaviors are and what might be the signs of a mental illness isn't always easy. There's no easy test or one-size-fits-all approach that can let someone know if there is mental illness or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors of a person or the result of a physical illness. Each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Difficulty keeping up with hygiene or a clean room
  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality)
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance
Mental health conditions can also begin to develop in young children. Because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their most obvious symptoms are behavioral. Symptoms in children may include the following:
  • Changes in school performance
  • Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Frequent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums




Creating Safety Zones


To support youth mental health and reduce suicides, we need to create safety zones: supportive spaces where they feel comfortable sharing their concerns. At home, young people need to feel that they’re not judged for what they’re going through. They also need to know that professional help is available when they need it. Each of us can contribute to that mental health safety zone in our own community. We can learn the warning signs associated with youth suicide, as well as what we can do to help someone in crisis. Some warning signs might be obvious. For example, when a child says they’d be better off dead or starts to give away their belongings. Other signs that are less clear might include sudden changes in their behavior or academic performance, or a preoccupation with death. It's also important that we provide programs, opportunities and activities that engage and support youth mental health. One example is a high school in North Carolina that operates a youth mental health support group. The faculty-supported club provides a supportive environment for students to share their thoughts and feelings. It was started by a student who attempted suicide, and afterward wanted to help her fellow students and help reduce the stigma of youth suicide. We can all make ourselves more aware of what to watch for and how to respond in a supportive way when young people reach out for help. By doing so, we can not only eliminate the taboos around talking about suicide, we can help reduce the prevalence of youth suicide in our communities. Knowing that they have somewhere to turn can make all the difference for a young person as they cope with today’s unique pressures. Even more, it can help them build a strong foundation for mental health as they transition into adulthood and throughout their lives.




How to Support


Learn All That You Can In addition to seeking help from healthcare professionals, you should educate yourself as much as possible about your child’s mental health condition. NAMI Basics is an educational class that teaches parents and other family caregivers how to cope with their child’s condition and manage their recovery. You can also find information about specific mental health conditions and treatment options on the NAMI website. Talk With Your Child’s School Check to be sure that your child is receiving appropriate care and services at school. Children with mental health conditions may struggle in school without assistance, leading to frustration and stress. Fortunately, the law requires that schools provide special services and accommodations to children with mental health conditions that interfere with their education. Learn more about how to acquire necessary educational services. Work With Your Child As much as possible, you need to remain respectful and understanding of your child’s feelings even if everything seems to be working against you. You should avoid getting angry at them for behaviors that are not under their control. This does not mean you can’t set limits or impose discipline. What it does mean is that you must set your expectations in consideration of your child’s mental health. This is often referred to as part of “finding a new normal.” Although it can be hard to accept, people who develop mental health conditions may never be the same as they were before. Expecting the same standards of behavior from prior to the onset of their mental health condition will only cause frustration and stress for everyone. How To Hold Your Family Together When you have a child with mental illness, it is easy to let your concern for them grow to consume your life. Here are some things to remember: Take Care Of Yourself While it is your responsibility to care for and support your child, it is also your responsibility to take care of yourself. You may have to adjust your priorities or your lifestyle, but you should avoid letting the challenges posed by your child’s mental health condition make you neglect other important parts of your life. In some cases, the stress of raising a child with a mental illness can contribute to the experience of mental health challenges by a parent. If you begin to feel that you are struggling with sadness or anxiety, do not hesitate to seek treatment for yourself. Caring for your own mental well-being will serve as a model for your child to follow, and ensure that you are healthy and able to care for your child. Take Care Of Your Family Remember that if you have other children, they may resent being pushed to the side if all the attention is placed on their sibling’s mental health challenges. Make sure that they understand what their sibling is going through, and that you spend time with each of them. Keeping a happy and balanced family can be very helpful in reducing stress levels for everyone, which can help alleviate symptoms of mental illness. Get Your Family Involved If you live with a partner or spouse, or have other children, try to get them involved in being an advocate for your child. You may find that you deal with challenges and obstacles differently than them, but you should find ways to combine strengths to overcome any weaknesses. Be ready to compromise, listen and be open to new ideas. It is possible you may discover that some members of your family have little interest in supporting you and your child in dealing with challenges posed by your child’s mental health condition. It is also possible that a spouse or significant other may be a negative influence on your child. They may demand discipline for behaviors your child cannot control, deny that there is anything wrong or insist upon an irrational course of action. Helping to raise a child who has a mental health condition can be stressful, and it is unrealistic to assume that anyone, yourself included, will always react in an ideal way. However, you must also realize that it is your responsibility to protect your child, even from others that you care about.




Tips for Parents


One of the best ways to prevent mental health crises is to help adolescents and teens develop emotional intelligence and healthy coping skills. It’s also greatly beneficial if both teens and adolescents develop and practice good communication skills, so teens can talk about their problems when they arise and ask for help when it’s needed. How to Help Your Teen Struggling with Mental Health Issues: This article provides statistics about teen mental and emotional issues and offers advice for adults who are trying to help. Family Guide to Adolescent Depression: This guide from NAMI describes what families need to know about adolescent depression and how to recognize, treat, and understand it. Minding Your Mental Health: This piece discusses how food and sleep affect teenagers’ moods. It also touches on meditation and how it can help those at-risk of self harm. Taking Care of Yourself: This article from NAMI discusses how you as a parent can stay in tune with your emotional health when supporting your child with a mental illness. Teen Mental Wellness: The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation published this information about the link between teen substance abuse and mental health. Talking to Your Kids about Psychatric Medications: This blog post from NAMI details what techniques have been effective when talking to your kids about medication. VIDEO: Helping Families Communicate Effectively: This live video from Oklahoma Family Network discusses what it means to adovcate and support for your child in school. Ensuring Your Child is Supported in School: This NAMI blog post discusses some key ingredients in ensuring that your child recieves the support they need in school. Resources to Support Adolescent Mental Health: This page provides a service locator, hotlines and other resources for helping teens address mental health issues. Mental Health Resources for Adolescents and Young Adults: Find youth-friendly mental health resources and advocacy networks here.




Say It Out Loud Toolkit


Say it Out Loud Toolkit: This toolkit gives adults the tools they need to hold conversations about mental health with with teens and young adults. The toolkit includes:

  • A short film featuring three teen's experiences.
  • A discussion guide.
  • A narrated presentation for the facilitator.
  • Fact sheets and information about connecting with your local NAMI.




Join a Family Support Group


Find a local family support group here! NAMI Family Support Group is a peer-led support group for any adult with a loved one who has experienced symptoms of a mental health condition. Gain insight from the challenges and successes of others facing similar experiences. NAMI’s support groups are unique because they follow a structured model, ensuring everyone has an opportunity to be heard and to get what they need.

  • Free of cost to participants
  • Designed for adult loved ones of people with mental health conditions
  • Led by family members of people with mental health conditions
  • 60-90 minutes long and meets weekly, every other week or monthly (varies by location)
  • No specific medical therapy or treatment is endorsed
  • Confidential
NAMI Family Support Group will help you:
  • Aim for better coping skills
  • Find strength in sharing experiences
  • Not judge anyone’s pain
  • Forgive ourselves and reject guilt
  • Embrace humor as healthy
  • Accept that we cannot solve every problem
  • Understand that mental health conditions are no one's fault and can be traumatic experiences




LGBTQIA+ Mental Health


LGBTQIA+ Mental Health




Children with Disabilites Mental Health


Children with Disabilities Mental Health