5 Tasks if Your Child is Diagnosed with a Mental Illness

When I teach workshops or lead discussions on coming off psychiatric drugs and alternatives, there are invariably parents present who are at loose ends.  They want to know what to do for their children, how to help them best, and how it can be possible for their child to live without medication given all they have been through.  Oftentimes there have been violence, suicide threats/attempts, substance abuse/addiction, and a long history of diagnoses and psychiatric drugs that haven’t worked but to sedate their child.  Most of the time, the child (who may be an adult) is on numerous psychiatric drugs and lacks motivation and energy.   Here are 5 ideas:

  1. Forget about the label.  Yes, your child is suffering.  Yes, your offspring has something to bring to the world that hasn’t been understood or effectively supported.  Space hasn’t been made for it…  yet.
  2. Find their gifts and support them in those.  If your daughter/son has great gifts that society doesn’t acknowledge so much, let them know!  As their parent you can see them more clearly sometimes (less others).  Find out more about their gifts from those who admire them and see the best in them.
  3. Don’t take responsibility for the label. Instead take responsibility for yourself.  Don’t call yourself a bad parent.  Do call yourself a traumatized person yourself.  Do write and speak of your own trauma, in whatever ways feel best, with your community.  Do share your own life story with your children (when/if they are in a place to hear it) and the world.  Do create.  Do have fun.  Do support your child as much as possible.  Don’t stop focusing on your own life.Your child is picking up where you left off, so the more secrets you unearth about your own trauma, the less burden your daughter/son has to hold.  Write your story and share it with the world, or find another way to express it artistically. In your story, focus on yourself.  Don’t focus on your child or share things about them without their permission.  Keep gossiping about your child in check.  It’s very socially acceptable for parents to talk solely about their children and to do so without respecting their confidentiality.  Challenge yourself to keep the focus of your conversations on your own feelings and experiences.
  4. Don’t use your child’s challenges to distract from your own.  This is easy for parents to do.  Your children are used to being an energetic dumping ground for your anxieties and fears.  They receive them no matter how hard you try to protect them or keep secrets.  They are likely to benefit if you address your own challenges.
  5. Keep coming back to yourself.  Are you lonely?  Do you need more connection with friends?  Do you have enough creative outlets?  Are you sharing your creativity with the world?  Do you have a form of meditation that you practice daily?  Are you taking out your relationship challenges on your children?Take care of your own body and health.  Do all the things you want your children to do to take care of themselves.

Finally, be open to learning something new from your child.  Be willing to admit you don’t know everything and you child may be your greatest teacher.  Be loving, kind and compassionate with yourself.  Sure, you weren’t a perfect parent. Maybe you had so much stress and trauma of your own that you abused your children emotionally or physically.  If this is the case, acknowledge that you are a hurt child underneath too.  Seek out support groups, mediation, friends, artistic expression, and whatever else helps you own your own life experiences and respect and forgive yourself.

Most parents have been abusive in some way.  And most have an incredible amount of shame about this.  Most parents were also abused themselves.  Ask yourself what you need to do to reconcile this.  Apologize to your child maybe?  Apologize to yourself, surely.  Share your traumas with a professional if needed/desired.  Eventually move into sharing with friends, your wider community and/or the public with some form of artistic expression.

Disclaimer: I am not a parent so I offer this with due humility that I do not know what it is like. These are things I would have liked someone to say to my own parents when I was in turmoil, and things I’d like to say to other parents as well.

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