Do you want to know what one of my biggest challenges is as a mom of children who have various mental health struggles? It’s not mean jerks who make fun of children who aren’t like them. Nope. It’s more tricky than that.
One of the hardest things is dealing with the well-meaning people who speak freely with their opinions and advice, but don’t understand the reality of mental illness. These are people who care. These are individuals that believe they are being helpful.
Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13% – (more info).
That’s 10 of the 50 teens in your church youth group and 26 of the 200 children in your children’s ministry. In real life terms, this means you have a friend who is carrying a heavy load.
Do you want to know how to help a parent of a child who is fighting a mental illness? These are a few things you need to know.
**They Don’t Need Advice
You don’t need to have any answers. In fact, it’s best if you don’t try to offer any at all. A simple acknowledgment that you can see that it’s difficult goes a long way. Well-meaning advice is tricky. They’ve received plenty of it. 99% of the unsolicited advice received adds to the burden of pain and anxiety.
Trust that if your friend wants advice, she will ask for it. Wouldn’t you rather offer something she actually needs? She needs empathy and your friendship.
**They Need A Safe Place To Express Their Feelings
Parents who have kids in crisis have to keep their game face on in front of their kids.
Last week, I snagged some time with my child’s therapist before the session with my child started. For 10 minutes, I was able to debrief with just the therapist. I was honest and raw with her about my concerns. I made sure to cry quietly because my child was on the other side of that door. Then I wiped my tears and she gave me a moment to compose myself before we invited my child into the room.
Parents of kids in crisis are in crisis themselves. They might need to come over, sit on your couch and cry.
**They Want To Reach Out For Support But Are Afraid People Will Say Hurtful Things(Again)
I can tell you why some parents of kids who struggle with mental health issues seem quiet or private. One reason is they want to be careful about sharing things about their kids. The other reason is that they have been hurt by people who have made well-meaning comments that have missed the mark.
I know this is a hard thing to hear, but it’s vital.
Too many well-meaning people are not listening to the very people they are attempting to help. When someone tells you that your advice has hurt them or isn’t helpful, this is not the time for the advice-giver to be defensive.
**One Of The Best Gifts You Can Give a Family Dealing With a Mental Health Crisis Is For You To Educate Yourself About Mental Health.
Educate yourself with a curious, open heart. Don’t start with preconceived ideas of causes and solutions. Ask a mental health professional for insight. Ask some people who have dealt with it first-hand.
Most of your friends who are struggling would be happy to have their pastor approach them and ask, “What is something I need to know about mental health that would be helpful for you and others dealing with this?”
I can’t say this strongly enough: If you are trying to support a family through a mental health crisis, you need to educate yourself about mental health.
The Christian Struggle With Mental Illness
National Alliance On Mental Illness
If you are a parent of someone who has mental illness, what would you add to this list? What would you like people to understand? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments here or on my FB page.