Working with families as a family/parent coach, I get to hear a lot of the stressors that parents endure while raising their children. Although I tend to focus on the behaviors of the child and the relationship between the parents and the children, I can’t close my ears to the plight of families navigating the various systems they encounter while trying to access care for their child.
In this series, I will talk about how parents can advocate for their child in areas like school, mental health, and medical care. The second in the series will focus on speaking up for your child’s mental health care. You can read the first post — discussing advocating for your child’ medical care — in this series here.
Today (October 10th) is Mental Health Awareness Day! And, what better way to spread awareness and show support than to discuss ways that you can advocate for your child’s mental health care. Just as the previous post in this series encouraged you to speak up and ask questions about your child’s physical health, this post will present you with tools you can use to discuss your child’s mental and emotional health care.
As parents or guardians, it’s vital for us to look after our child’s mental health. In fact, their mental health is just as important as their physical health because this can affect their ability to remain resilient during tough times and develop fully as a person. Having poor mental health can increase your child’s risks of experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems, which is why we should ensure their mental wellness at all times.
I know that it can be such a daunting experience to hear that your child has a mental illness, and it can be even more daunting to have to navigate the mental health world. Doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and other mental health personnel can sometimes be unfriendly and rush you through clinical jargon and procedures without giving you much time to catch up. Therapies to manage symptoms of any mental health condition will not only cause a hole in your pocket, but will also prevent your children from enjoying their innocence.
But, here are some strategies that you can use to speak up and get your voice heard as you help your child cope with their mental health.
This is always my number one tool in working with families. And, I always start here no matter the diagnosis because when you try to tackle coping with a child with a mental illness alone you get burned out and frustrated. It’s not about shame or blame; it’s about getting the support that you need to cope with managing your child’s mental and emotional health. Regardless of how minor you think your child’s mental illness is, there will come a time when you’ll feel tired and hopeless. This is especially true if you’re juggling other responsibilities as you’re looking after your child.
I encourage you to look for local support groups that not only allow you to share your experience, but also provide education about your child’s diagnosis and resources to help your meet your child’s needs. Joining support groups is a great way to know more about mental illnesses and gain tips from parents or guardians who also experience the same problems with their children. Being surrounded by people who understand what you’re going through will help you ward off stress.
I also encourage you to enlist the help of family members who you can educate about what your child is going through. And, if you have people in your family who don’t understand what is happening to your child, trust me when I say that getting that outside support, such as professionals from Fired Up People, will help you advocate for your child in a way that can really change the way those families members respond and interact with you and your child.
Learn About the Diagnosis
There are a lot of misconceptions about mental health and certain diagnoses. Many of those myths and misconceptions can be dispelled by learning about the diagnosis from a physician, a psychiatrist, or a mental health group (like NAMI).
Learning more about your child’s diagnosis is vital because this information will help you determine how you can help your children cope. It’ll be challenging for any parent or guardian to offer help to their children if they don’t have any idea what they’re children are suffering from or what are the symptoms of their mental illness.
One of the most liberating things I’ve seen in families is when they really come to an understanding about their child’s diagnosis. They begin to realize that with the right resources, medication (in some cases), and lots of support even the most pervasive mental illnesses can be managed.
The most important thing to remember in learning about your child’s diagnosis is that your child is not the diagnosis. As you develop the language to talk about your child’s diagnosis you can help stop shaming and blaming from your child’s school officials, in your community, and in your family. The information you'll gain about your child’s diagnosis will also make it easier for you to relate to whatever your child is going through.
The Different Methods of Treatment
Another important strategy that is essential to managing your child’s mental health is to know about the various treatment modalities. You can acquire this information by doing a little online search or asking healthcare professionals. There are numerous ways that your child’s mental health can be managed, such as through medication or through interventions such as play therapy, parent-child therapy, family, therapy, or individual talk therapy.
And, since there are such a variety of interventions it is essential to the overall advocacy of your child’s mental health that you inquire about their current treatment plan. When your child’s therapist is doing an intervention that you are confused about – ask about it. When the psychiatrist prescribes a medication with side effects that concern you – talk about it.
I encourage you to not just take it for granted that professionals create the treatment plans; be a part of the treatment that your child is receiving. Your child will have better chances of recovering from any mental illness if they see and feel the support of their entire family.
I encourage you to listen to what is said, ask questions about what concerns you, comply with the treatment as directed (for some medications, it can take a few months before you see results), and make sure to discuss what you observed in your child during the treatment at each session. I will be blunt here: Never go into a session saying that nothing has changed. I say this curtly because your treatment team does not live with you and are relying on you to be observant and aware of the changes that could be occurring as a result of the treatment. Many of the treatment modalities that exist in mental health require that change be monitored and discussed – especially for medication treatments.
Which brings me to the second most important tools you can use to manage and advocate for your child’s mental health care (after getting support) – keeping a treatment journal. I use this term loosely because what I hope to inspire is a need to have your entire child’s mental health care organized. My suggestion is that you have a notebook or folder (or binder) with the following:
• All medications, dosages, and the regimen for taking the medication
• The names, numbers and addresses of your child’s treatment team (and any supervisors)
• An observation log that you keep (this should detail what you observe while your child is taking a medication or using a specific intervention)
It may feel like more work to have this, and keep up with this, but when you have your sessions with your child’s treatment team it will make things a lot easier to explain, and give you a lot of insight into whether this current treatment plan/intervention is working to manage your child’s mental health.
These are the strategies that I consistently provide to the families that work with me. It can be such a huge and all-consuming task to navigate your child’s mental health care, but I think that these tools can lighten the load a bunch. Another thing to remember, your child will have to cope with their mental health (whether they have a diagnosis or not) for their whole life – the ways in which you model advocating for their mental health now are the tools that they’ll use as they get older.