Staying Mentally Healthy for Your Child with Mental Illness
Staying mentally healthy as a parent of a child with mental illness can be a struggle. It's difficult to watch your child experience depression, angry outbursts, or suicidal thoughts. Being a parent means having an extraordinary capacity for love, and with that comes an extraordinary capacity for worry. Your child can't make it without you, though, so it's important to recognize when you need to reach out for help, too. You need to stay mentally healthy for your child with a mental illness.
Staying Mentally Healthy for Your Mentally Ill Child
Developing symptoms of mental illness is common when you parent a child with a mental illness. It's okay to ask for help and to receive help. Help is there, and the child protective services caseworkers who involve themselves in your family will point you in the right direction -- not punish your family. It's hard staying mentally healthy raising a mentally ill child, but it's important to try.
Depression and Anxiety in a Parent of a Mentally Ill Child
This Mother's Day had me feeling down. I never second-guess my choice to be a mother, but I definitely second-guess whether I'm a good one. All mothers feel this occasionally, I'm sure, but there's a deeper level to it when parenting a child with mental illness. I can't comfort myself by saying it's "just a phase" for my son. It's not just "hormonal" (though don't get me started on my fears for when it is hormonal).
My son has had a recent increase in outbursts. During his in-home therapy session, he ended up breaking his bedroom window (again). It's discouraging. When you've seemingly tried everything, and even have professional help present, it's hard not to feel hopeless when the scary symptoms persist.
Hopelessness and helplessness are signs of depression. Sleep and appetite problems are signs, too. I know I've hit my wall when the uncontrollable crying starts. I'll get irritable and little annoyances make me want to throw things. Don't worry, I don't actually throw things.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in a Parent of a Child with Mental Illness
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), PTSD can result when a person is exposed to actual or threatened harm to themselves or someone they love. It's traumatic to watch your child suffer. As parents, the moment our children are born, our imaginations become extremely adept at conjuring ways they can be hurt. We try to control it by childproofing our homes; using safety equipment; teaching stranger danger. Imagine having to childproof against self-harm or suicidal thoughts. It's soul-crushing.
My child's hospitalization is what haunts me most. At one point, they put him in restraints, strapped him down while he screamed at them. I had to give permission to do this and to use sedatives. I relive that choice often. I'm crying just writing about it.
He would have hurt himself otherwise, but watching them jab that needle into him, and then trying to comfort him while he passed out, will never leave me. He was hospitalized on May 21st last year, and the memories only intensify as we get closer to the anniversary. I relive it every time he has an outburst.
These are hallmarks of PTSD, though that's hard to admit. It makes me feel weak because I wasn't the one who went through it (my son did). It's all there, though, and I wouldn't doubt it's more common for parents of children with mental illness than we think.
Getting Help to Stay Mentally Healthy for Your Child with a Mental Illness
Parents are already under a microscope in our culture. As a parent of a child with mental illness, though, you also have providers in your life. I'm not concerned I'm going to hurt my child, but providers have to be concerned about that with everybody. It's their job as mandatory reporters. As a parent of a child with mental illness, you are aware of this, and you're afraid anything you say or do will be held against you. You're afraid that getting depressed and simply not cleaning your home, for instance, will be cause for child protective services.
I assure you, though: Having your own mental illness is not child abuse, and providers won't see it that way. They are professionally equipped to even help you. So ask for help. Here's a list of possible resources to start: Mental Health Hotline Numbers and Referral Resources.
You need to be mentally healthy for your mentally ill child. So remember to care for yourself, too.
David, M. (2017, May 15). Staying Mentally Healthy for Your Child with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2017/05/managing-your-own-mental-health-through-childhood-mental-illness