Mental health issues are on the rise the last couple of years with the pandemic and all that’s been going on in the world. Sadly, we just passed the two-year mark of losing one of our adult sons to mental illness. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through and has led me to want to help others who might be dealing with a child who struggles in this area.
If your child is dealing with mental health issues, here are some tips to help you navigate this difficult road:
Get your child the health care they need
Take your child to the doctor for a thorough physical to be sure there are no physical reasons for their mental health struggles. There are other illnesses that can cause anxiety, depression, etc. such as diabetes, thyroid problems, allergies, autoimmune diseases, and more.
Psychologists and other mental health counselors can provide individual or group counseling. Play or sand therapy are often used with younger children.
Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in mental health and are the best doctors to prescribe mental health medications should your child need them.
Naturopathic doctors are another good option. They focus on healing the mind and body by looking for the root of the problem and using natural methods and supplements to bring healing.
In a crisis, your child may need to go to the emergency room or be admitted to a short-term treatment center.
Show empathy and compassion
Ask your child how they’re doing and make time to listen to their answer. Allow them to express their feelings openly and validate how they feel. Calm Kid Central has a lot of good questions if you’re not sure what to ask. Be the safe person that your child needs, don’t criticize or minimize their feelings but rather, love them unconditionally. Guard against giving advice too quickly.
Take your child seriously
If they are saying things like “Life is not worth living”, or “I hate my life”, take them seriously. They’re crying out for help and need to see a counselor or psychiatrist. Teens will sometimes use coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs, cutting, burning, or harming themselves in some way. These are cries for help, take them seriously.
Learn more about mental health so you can understand what they’re experiencing
There are so many resources online to help you understand mental health conditions, here are a few:
- NAMI- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Mental Health America
- Mental Health Minnesota
- Heart and Mind Connection
You can also join a support group/course for parents of children with mental illness such as the Nami Basics course (either in person if your state offers it or online through Nami Basics on Demand). Mental Health First Aid also offers training for those who are helping youth struggling with mental illness.
Help your child/teen understand their emotions
My Little Box of Emotions is another good set of books to help children understand their emotions.
A Little SPOT of Emotion Book Series has books on anxiety, anger, sadness, peacefulness, happiness, and more.
A Feelings Wheel can help teens to be able to more clearly express how they are feeling beyond just sad or anxious.
Help them develop coping skills and remember to use them
- Some children/teens have found help through Equine therapy, Dance therapy, Music therapy, or Art therapy.
- Find calming techniques for them to use when they’re feeling big feelings or out of control. GoZen.com has Calm Down Cards with pictures and suggestions of things that might help your child calm down when needed.
- Help them to talk about their feelings or encourage teens to journal if they don’t want to talk about feelings.
- Deep breathing into the stomach will bring calm from anger or anxiety. (breath in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and release for 4 counts)
- Using the five senses to calm oneself is another great way to find relief from anxiety or anger.
- Make a list of calming techniques and post them in your child’s room or in a central room in the house.
Help them change faulty thinking with the truths from scripture
Some of the struggle with mental health can be related to the subconscious negative beliefs & patterns in our minds and these need to be changed- we can use scripture to help along with individual counseling. After allowing our loved one to express their feelings and letting them know we care, we can help them to change negative thought patterns to positive ones through God’s word.
If your child is willing, often when thoughts are changed, emotions and actions will follow.
Satan is the author of lies and will try to discourage us – when a child is dealing with mental illness, they’re more susceptible to the lies, but God is able to change our faulty thinking with scripture and we can also help them to find scripture to refute the things they’re believing that just aren’t true.
Download this FREE list of verses to read or memorize to help with the various negative emotions your child might be feeling.
Pray for and with your child for protection and healing
As you pray with your child, you’re teaching them to bring their fears and worries to God. You can also teach them about the armor of God and pray for God to protect them and you each day with His armor using Ephesians 6: 10-17.
Find support for your child
Help your child to connect with others. They need at least one friend or a counselor that they can talk freely with about how they feel.
Find support for yourself and take care of yourself
Parenting a child with mental illness is hard, you need support from a professional or others who are going through something similar. Join a support group or find prayer partners who will faithfully pray for you and your child. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Couples often find that their marriage suffers – if this is the case for you, make time to strengthen and heal your marriage. Married with Special Needs Children by Laura E. Marshack is a good resource to help.
Although it can feel like you’re in a dark valley, remember that God is with you, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. He is our Jehovah Shammah and is always with us to guide, love, and support us.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
Please share any other ideas you’ve found helpful below. I’d be honored to pray for you if you wish to share your prayer needs. God is faithful and I firmly believe pray makes a difference!
Places to go for help if you’re not sure what to do…
- [email protected] or 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- Metro Children’s Crisis Response – childcrisisresponsemn.org
- Go to your family physician and if they need a psychiatrist’s advice, there’s a helpline for physicians as well: PAL – Psychiatric assistance line – https://www.mnpsychconsult.com/
- If you’re in a crisis, where your child is a threat to themselves or others, call 911 or take them to a hospital emergency room.