Telling your child about his or her mental illness

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Telling your child about his or her mental illness

First, I would ask them what they understand about what's going on. When working with teenagers, I'll say, "These things all add up to a Clinical Depression." They thank me, because they feel like a loser for what's going on. When they feel like there is an explanation for what's going on, they feel lighter. That's not true of everyone. So, I ask people to approach this with some sensitivity to who the child is. I would start with: How do you understand the difficulties that you are having? How do you make sense of them? I would listen to them, and build off that. When a person gets an evaluation, often, the professionals will have a conversation with the parent, with the child; which takes the parent out of the role of having to give all the news, all the time. The professional's job is to put into context, the diagnosis, the disabilities, whatever the strengths, whatever the vulnerabilities are, into some framework; so they can hear it. That's part of a good mental health evaluation. But the parent, who is alert and aware of what the child is saying, is hopefully, picking up on those cues and participating in the conversation.

Watch Kenneth Duckworth, MD's video on Telling your child about his or her mental illness...


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Kenneth Duckworth, MD

Psychiatrist, Harvard Professor & Medical Director for NAMI

Ken Duckworth, MD, serves as the medical director for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He is triple board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in Adult, Child and Adolescent, and Forensic Psychiatry and has extensive experience in the public health arena.

Dr. Duckworth is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard University Medical School, and has served as a board member of the American Association of Community Psychiatrists. Dr. Duckworth has held clinical and leadership positions in community mental health, school psychiatry and now also works as Associate Medical Director for Behavioral Health at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Prior to joining NAMI in 2003, Dr. Duckworth served as Acting Commissioner of Mental Health and the Medical Director for Department of Mental Health of Massachusetts, as a psychiatrist on a Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) team, and Medical Director of the Massachusetts Mental Health Center.

Dr. Duckworth attended the University of Michigan where he graduated with honors and Temple University School of Medicine where he was named to the medical honor society, AOA. While at Temple, he won awards for his work in psychiatry and neurology. He also has a family member living with mental illness.

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