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What Not to Say to a Parent of a Child with Mental Illness

March 15, 2015 Christina Halli

Have you ever wondered what not to say to a parent of a child with mental illness? Every day I hear insensitive remarks about my child's mental illness. I don't believe the people making these comments know how hurtful they are to me. It recently occurred to me that most people probably don't know what to say or what not to say to a parent of a child with mental illness. Perhaps that is why they say exactly the wrong thing. So I've put together some guidelines of what not to say to a parent of a child with mental illness.

Don't Say This to Parents of Children with Mental Illnesses

Don't deny the illness. Five years ago when my son Bob was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my mother tried to convince me the doctor was wrong. Even recently a family member suggested my son would outgrow his mental illness and not require medication in the future. Believe me, I wish my son didn't have a serious, lifelong mental illness but he does. These well meaning comments confuse me. They also can derail critical treatment.

Don't Give Solutions to Parents of Mentally Ill Children

Here's something not to say to a parent of a child with a mental illness: don't give advice or solutions. This is huge. Yes, he's tried therapy, counseling, psychologists, psychiatrists and medications. Bob had an individual education plan at school with home-bound and emotional support placements. I watch my son's diet, exercise, sunlight exposure, sleep and electronics use. He doesn't smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs. No, he is not on a gluten-free, organic diet. When you kindly offer me advice or solutions, it makes me feel like you think I'm not doing everything I can for my child. It's extremely frustrating for me. There is no silver bullet. I know this.

What Not to Say to Parents of Mentally Ill Children: Don't Blame the Parents

People often say hurtful things to parents of mentally ill children. Read this to find out what not to say to a parent of a child with mental illness.

Don't blame the parents. Too often parents of children with mental illness are judged to be bad parents because of their child's bad behavior. In the past, traditional parenting methods made my son Bob's behavioral symptoms worse. Taking away my son's phone is not going to make his social anxiety disorder go away. His phone is a source of safety for him, so he keeps it. That doesn't make me a bad parent or Bob a manipulative teenager. Tough love does not cure mental illness (What Works When Disciplining a Child with Mental Illness).

Don't Tell a Parent of a Mentally Ill Child to Stop Medication

Don't think the goal is to get my child off psychiatric medication. You would never tell a parent of a child with diabetes to stop giving their child insulin. My son's mental illness is no different. His psychiatric medication is life-saving.

Other Things Not to Say to a Parent of a Child with Mental Illness

Don't call my child names. He's not a psycho, druggie or troublemaker. The weather is not bipolar. Your fastidious neighbor does not have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Name-calling makes light of mental illness and promotes stigma. Would you make fun of a child with leukemia?

People often say hurtful things to parents of mentally ill children. Read this to find out what not to say to a parent of a child with mental illness.

Don't dismiss my child or me. I'm very open about my son's mental illness. If you ask me how Bob is doing, I will likely tell you he missed a week of school recently because of his bipolar depression. When you awkwardly say nothing or change the subject, it hurts me. Say something, but don't ignore my child with mental illness.

While focusing on what not to say to a parent of a child with mental illness may seen negative, my next blog will discuss what to say to a parent of a child with mental illness.

You can find Christina on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

APA Reference
Halli, C. (2015, March 15). What Not to Say to a Parent of a Child with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, July 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2015/03/what-not-to-say-to-a-parent-of-a-child-with-mental-illness



Author: Christina Halli

Faith
May, 9 2018 at 8:16 pm

I am the parent of a 13 yr old ..whom at the age of 9 was diagnosed with early onset childhood schizophrenia.. my biggest pet prieve is when people tell me and my son he is possessed... how do you explain to a child who is already dilutional not to pay those comments any attention.. for every step forward these kind of statements knock him down ten times fold......

Rita
January, 25 2016 at 10:46 am

I'm sorry that I did not find this blog until after its completion. As a mom of a mentally I'll teenager I have often felt judged and questioned. Well meaning friends and family have assured us that our daughter's condition could be mediated if we just put together the right "team". We have also been told that when she matures she will wake up and want a better life. This was probably the most hurtful comment because it was made to our daughter by her grandmother. I know that my mom wants only the best for our daughter, but the comment left our daughter feeling like even the people who know her best think that she is choosing mental illness. Thanks for listening

Charlie
March, 18 2015 at 6:07 pm

I feel like people who say those comments that are ring criticized in this article have positive intentions. They want to reassure parents or help give resources or ideas. The tone of this article understandably comes from a point of frustration, but I feel it would be a more effective catalyst for change in people's comments would be to list what TO say to parents who have a child facing these afflictions. How can you family and community support you? This information is what we are seeking.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Christina Halli
March, 23 2015 at 9:40 am

Hi Charlie,
Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that most people who say the wrong thing probably have good intentions. My next blog will cover What to Say...I hope it will help your family and community support you.

Marc
March, 16 2015 at 4:46 am

Hi Christina, Its tough to contribute to an article like this. It sounds much too much like you would rather no one speaks to you. Especially when they are uninformed or unable to relate at your level of understanding about your sons needs. Let me just say this, As you have learned to deal with your son, you will need to learn to deal with persons that do not understand mental illness. They are fortunate that their life events have not caused them to address the distress of an individual with mental illness or some other life disability. But better yet, you have been. There is so much more to learn from a person with a mental illness that it will always enrich your life in ways that others will never understand. Its like getting to travel to a foreign country and learning the customs and social characteristics of another culture. My son is 27 now, and although he lives with his mom and does not visit any longer. I will never forget him.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Christina Halli
March, 23 2015 at 9:43 am

Hi Marc,
Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that raising a child with mental illness includes dealing with and educating persons that do not understand mental illness. That is exactly the intention of this blog and my next blog about What To Say.

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