Sunday, January 23, 2011

When Your Child or Teen Has Mental Illness Part 1

For my own mental health, I kept a list of things I learned as the mother of a young girl with juvenile bipolar disorder, skewing toward depression. She was one of the first children in the world diagnosed with this mental illness, and thus, an experiment much too often for my peace of mind. I had no peers that I was aware of, anyway.

Many, many children  today deal with depression, and many, many people, including a lot in the school system, still have no clue how to deal with it. I forgive people relatively easily. But I still honestly hate a handful of teachers and principals from that period for what they did to my child. 

Here are some of the truths I discovered:

1.  Separate the child from the symptoms. Your child would like nothing better than to be a happy, fulfilled person. Learn the symptomatic behaviors, and don't take them personally.  Try to view the situation just as you would if your child had a stomach virus. You will have to clean up the vomit sometimes. At the same time, love your child as she is, not as she used to be or as you hope she will be.

2. Take it one day at a time. When the day is done, reflect on what you and your child did right. Practice gratitude.

3. Treat your child with respect. Remember: Many people will let your child know that they think that she is a failure every day.

4.  Be realistic.  A depressed teenager will not get straight As or do chores with a smile.

5.  When you speak in an angry manner, a depressed person will only hear your anger. He or she seldom gets the point you want to make.

6.  Make sure that there is fun in your relationship with your child. (This is why I have a huge collection of seasonal decorations. We celebrated everything.) 

7.  Take breaks away from your child when you are upset. Pace yourself. This is a marathon. You can only offer long-term support if you protect your relationship with your child and take care of your own health ... mental and physical.

8. Look for and comment on even small signs of improvement. One symptom of depression is not being able to remember the positive, so stress it.

9. Develop realistic goals, but don't trash her big dreams. Try to help her understand that small steps every day are important to working toward big goals.

10. Acknowledge the strength, courage and perseverance you see in your child every day. Your child's life is much more painful and difficult that most children's and teenagers' lives.

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