Let’s say you are a Mom, just diagnosed with breast cancer. After the shock wears off, you get on the phone and quickly connect to a network of knowledge given you by friends and friends of friends. You get names of doctors, surgeons, hospitals; you learn about treatment options. Friends and family visit; out-of-towners send cards and flowers. People you hardly know stop by to deliver meals. You are supported by friends and family; confident in your health care choices.
Let’s say you are a mom, and your 19 year old daughter is asked to take a leave of absence from college. The dean of students suggests she may have serious depression. After the shock wears off, you get on the phone but this time your friends and friends of friends do not offer up a network of knowledge. It is up to you to find a doctor, a hospital, a treatment plan. Some friends don’t return your calls. Family members shy away. Many don’t ask how your daughter is doing; even fewer reach out directly to her (as if mental illness were somehow contagious by inquiry).
Soon you discover, to your surprise, that there are no set treatment choices. Your daughter starts with one doctor, then moves to another; medications change; therapy evolves. And not one card is received. No one visits. No fruit baskets, no flowers, no casseroles.
With mental illness in the family, you do not get lasagna.
With Mental Illness, Families Left to Fend For Themselves
I am the Mom in the second paragraph. And I know I am not alone. If you are a parent in a similar place, you too may be frustrated with the lack of definitive solutions in the world of mental health. It becomes your responsibility to become well-informed, to learn all you can about psychiatric medications, therapies and programs, to become an “involuntary expert” in the field of young adult mental health.
And like me, you have watched while your young adult rides the rollercoaster of their mental illness. You have tough choices along the way – when to step in to help – and when to back off and let your young adult child chart his or her own path. If you can’t rescue your own child, some parents turn to advocacy for others, as I do. I also started a support group for other parents of children with mental illness which I find immensely helpful.
But in the back of my mind, I still remember that missing fruit basket, and the lasagna that never showed up on my doorstep.
Note to my friends and family – and to yours: deliveries still accepted. Support welcome. And I still love lasagna.
This article was written by:
Nancy L. Wolf is a parent, lawyer and young adult mental health advocate. Nancy created and runs a support and resource group on Facebook for parents of young adults who struggle with mental illness. You can also find her tweets @_nwolf.
To be a guest author on the Your Mental Health Blog, go here.