Being a parent is the hardest job ever! However, being a parent of a child with a chronic illness can feel unbearable at times. When your child is dealing with a serious mental illness, it is very important to provide the support they need in a loving and patient manner.
All parents want to do what’s right for their kids, but when your child is sick, physically or mentally, the desire to “get it right” becomes even more intense.
If you are the parent of a child with serious depression and/or anxiety, there isn’t one “right way” to parent them, but you can be a great support and advocate. Here are some ways you can show love and support for your child as they find their way back to health.
Accept Your New Reality
For many parents, accepting that your child has a mental illness is very difficult. It is natural to want to deny the seriousness of situation and pretend that everything is the way it was before the diagnosis. However, this attempt at self-protection can feel invalidating and shameful to your child. Accepting the reality of the situation allows you to focus on getting the right help and to treat the illness effectively, without you child feeling at fault.
Your child needs you now more than ever and to know that they can talk to you about anything, even the scary parts. Sit down with your child and tell them they can come to you at any time for any reason. Tell them that it is especially important that they reach out when their world feels dark and hopeless or overwhelming. Let them know you would never be angry at them for how they feel. When they are ready to talk, listen closely, and really hear them with an open mind and heart. You don’t need to “fix it,” rather to show that you understand and will be an ally in helping them to get better.
Help Their Body
The health of the body impacts the mind, especially when the mind is already stressed with depression and/or anxiety. Help your child’s recovery by encouraging healthy eating habits by limiting sugar, processed foods, and caffeine intake. Also, encourage them to get exercise at the level that they can handle. Start with a walk around the block or doing some light yard work as a family. Sleep is also an important foundational support. Help you child get enough rest each night by setting firm bed times with no screens in their room.
Talk to Them About Suicide
It’s a conversation no parent wants to have. Unfortunately, these days all parents need to be aware of the risk, and for the parent of a depressed or severely anxious child, the risk of suicide is an important issue to deal with head on. Start the conversation with your child by asking if they’ve ever thought about suicide. Be mindful of keeping your voice and comments non-judgemental and not overly reactive. Asking these questions in an objective way allows your child to speak candidly with you and share their true thoughts and feelings with you.
Some parents worry that bringing up suicide will increase the risk, by planting the thought in their child’s head, but there is no risk of that. However, hearing about others committing suicide can increase the risk, so make sure to check in with your child if there is a suicide at their school or one that is getting a lot of media coverage.
When your child is dealing with a serious depression and/or severe anxiety, they will be best helped by a team approach. You are on the front lines and can be a big support in your child’s life, but you don’t need to figure how to help them alone or carry all of the burden. Having the guidance of a trained mental health therapist or psychologist and psychiatrist, if needed, will be very beneficial. Your pediatrician, local support groups, friends and family can all be good sources of referrals. You can also check with your insurance under the “Find a Doctor” section and research providers on-line.
If you or a loved one has a child suffering with depression or severe anxiety, you are not alone. Please contact me for a free consultation to discuss parenting support or therapy for your child.