4 Things to Say to a Mom Raising a Child With a Mental Illness


Isolated. Cut-off. Forgotten. That’s how I sometimes feel as a mom raising children who have mental illnesses. Friends and family don’t know how to help, so they don’t.

Here are a few easy things you can say to brighten up the day of a mom whose life has changed because of mental illness.

1. “You’re a good mom.”

Too many of us carry around tremendous guilt that somehow, someway, our child’s illness is our fault. Some people still believe mental illness is solely based on nurture, but not nature. While mental illness can be brought on by environmental factorsI cannot tell you how many therapists, doctors and psychiatrists are still looking for a childhood trauma that caused my son’s anxiety and depression. There wasn’t one. Unless it was the time I let him cry it out in his crib when he was 6 months old. Or the time I made him finish his peas. Perhaps it was when I let him watch “Monty Python’s Holy Grail” when he was 7. (Nah, that just gave him a fantastic sense of humor.)

2. “I can’t understand what you’re going through.”

No, you can’t. Just like I can’t understand your stress level when you’re filling out college applications. But have you ever had your 7-year-old beat you in public? I have. All I could do was hold her tight and let her flail at me until her episode ended. And no, I did not appreciate the disapproving looks and tsk-tsks I got from the other moms at the park that day.

It’s important to remember books on parenting and conventional wisdom go out the window when your child is having a psychotic meltdown. Discipline, diets and rules do not work on my kid like they may work on yours. And yes, I have tried everything. And like you I’m doing the best I can.

3. “I see your child is (say something positive here)”

Both my children are beautiful and brilliant. They each have their own gifts and personalities. Please acknowledge something — anything — positive about them. I don’t get much positive feedback about my children. I don’t get to cheer my kid on at soccer games or attend the honor roll ceremonies. But I still need to hear something nice about them. Trust me, there are plenty of nice things to say. Don’t worry if it sounds minimal. “Bridget’s hair cut looks nice.” “Charlie smiled at me today.” I’ll take it.

4. “What do you need?”

Childhood illness is always heartbreaking and incredibly difficult for families. In my experience, when the illness is a mental one, friends and family stay silent or as far away as possible. Here are a couple of ways you can help:

– See items 1 – 3.

– Send a card. Just knowing someone is thinking about me will brighten my week.

– Give me a big, long hug.

– Invite my other children out for a few hours. Siblings of kids with mental illnesses need a break, too. They rarely get the attention they deserve, so a little from you would go a long way.

– Make a casserole – any meal for that matter. My kid may not eat it, but I’m tired of cooking to his palate. A woman can only eat mac and cheese so many times. When you drop it off, join me for a glass of wine and let’s have a chat.

A version of this piece originally appeared on @Wit’s End.

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