Talking Mental Health With Your Adult Child

It’s difficult to know what to do when your adult child has the symptoms of a mental illness. We encourage our children to be independent and take care of themselves. But what do we do as a parent if our adult child is struggling with depression, anxiety and  mania? It’s often hard to know what to say or do  if you feel like they should seek treatment, especially if they don’t recognize the issue themselves. This is a common issue for parents since mood disorders often appear in young adults at about the age that they are trying to set out on their own. Mood disorders can greatly affect the struggle for independence and worsen the symptoms if they try to go it alone. It affects job performance, the ability to make good choices and can easily turn into a substance abuse problem or a tendency to have deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Symptoms may be subtle as well. Some are even hidden by the sufferer.  If you suspect your child has the symptoms of a mood disorder (Learn the Warning Signs at the National Association for Mental Health Website) it is important to address the issues early to avoid a mental health crisis. 

Approaching the issue with your child takes a great amount of trust between you. If you feel your child will be receptive, then the direct approach may work for you. But some people may reject the idea of mental illness. Denial can, in and of itself, be a symptom of mental illness. Educating yourself will give you a leg up on convincing your child to seek help. Many people are afraid of the stigma of a mental health diagnosis that still exists in our society. Some may feel that seeing a doctor is like giving in to the problem. There are many famous people who have very successful careers who have mental illness. Many are successful because they have sought treatment. Finding someone for your child to relate to can ease the fear of stigma. If you feel your child is likely to shut down any conversation that begins with mental health, approaching their physical health may give you an opportunity to discuss issues of stress and fatigue. Seeing a general practitioner about these issues may help your child understand that these symptoms can be treated. The doctor may or may not approach the issue of a possible mental health issue, but this will at least lay the foundation for you to make the point that there are other issues and that they can be treated too. 

Relationships vary so much that it is impossible to recommend only one way to approach your child. But making accusations and pointing out the symptoms as flaws in their character is the wrong approach. It is important to express your concern with love and to let your child know that you want to help them, not control them. They also need to know that you don’t blame them for their symptoms. During a stressful event may not be the best time either. When emotions are running out of control it is not the time to make a sound decision about your own mental health. If you do experience a time when your adult child is in crisis and you fear they may hurt themselves or others, call 911. 

Recognizing your role as support while your child is being treated is important as well. Being there physically and emotionally gives your child a greater chance of successfully combating a mental health issue and getting them on the road to better mental health. 

Read more of Andrea’s blogs here.

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