When a child scrapes his knee, mom’s there with a Band-Aid. When a child falls ill, dad’s there with chicken soup. But what does a parent do when they can’t kiss the pain away?
Watching your child develop a mental illness — especially if you’re unfamiliar with the signs — can be confusing and rough for the whole family. For parents, it can be frustrating not knowing what to do, what to say or how to make it all better.
We asked people in our community who live with a mental illness to tell us one thing they wish their parents understood.
Here’s what they want parents to know:
1. “Your support and understanding are everything to me. I am in awe of the lengths you have gone to to try and get answers. And even when those answers didn’t come you still haven’t given up on me, even when I want to give up on myself!”
2. “I would tell my parents (and have told them) that even though I have an illness, I still love them. They didn’t do this to me, and it wasn’t their fault. There’s probably nothing they could have don’t to have prevented it. Nature made me who I am biologically… but they made me the wonderful and caring human being that I am, as well.”
3. “Sometimes, I just feel crap. I don’t always have a explanation as to why so when you ask me, I cannot always answer. I know you want to help, but, as hard as it may be, you sometimes just have to sit back. I will get through this. I don’t know how and I don’t know when… but one day I will.”
4. “I want them to know how thankful I am for their support. It took them a while to get to that place, but I’m grateful. They took me to many appointments and paid for so many medications.”
5. “I know that you feel like you should be able to help somehow, but it isn’t up to you — medication and therapy in addition to your unconditional love and support is the best thing for me.”
6. “I’m not doing this on purpose. This isn’t some attempt at rebellion, or a guilt trip or me trying to punish you. This is part of me, and it’s harder to deal with than you realize.”
7. “Thank you for being there for me even though it took some time to digest my illness. I appreciate all the kindness and love when I was in my darkest days. You pulled me though more than you’ll ever know.”
8. “I do not blame you for any of the problems we had when we were trying to navigate our way through my diagnoses. You guys learned all you could in a time before the Internet had the answers and before self-helps books were readily available. You were not bad parents just because you could not fix what was going on in me. You got me help, again, and again, and again and it’s OK it took more than one try to find the right person to help me because along the way I had two people who didn’t give up.”
9. “It’s not a parent’s job to fix their child (there are doctors for that). It’s a parent’s job to love, support and encourage their child so they feel a little less broken and alone.
10. “Don’t be ashamed of me. I do the best I can. It has just gotten harder getting older.”
11. “I need someone to reassure me. I have so many doubts. I feel worthless. I feel depressed, despaired, numb. Please don’t tell me I’m not doing anything with my life. I need someone to be there for me. I need someone to tell me I’m doing everything I can to heal. I’m doing everything I can to recover. Please tell me you’re proud of me.”
12. “It’s real and it is exhausting. I wish I could be more open with you, but you can’t understand.”
13. “I know you feel helpless. I understand your feelings. But there are a lot of things you can help me with and be supportive. Sometimes practical things like going shopping for or with me can be great. Sometimes I just need someone to talk to. Or I need someone to hug me. Or I need someone to tell me that everything is going to be OK. You being supportive is really really important to me.
14. “Thank you for putting up with my roller coaster. Know that I loved you very, very much, even at my worst moments.”
15. “You did not do anything wrong in raising me, Mom. And I will overcome this illness and be a productive member of society again one day. I just need time to let my body and soul heal. I love you more than you know for your love and support.”
16. “I love you and appreciate all that you have supported me through. Just please continue to do so, but don’t freak out if I tell you I’m going through a rough patch. When you worry about me so much, I get even more anxious and upset.”
17. “I was diagnosed as an adult. My mom was wracked with guilt. I did tell her, yes, this has been a part of me all my life. This anxiety was why I never had friends, got into trouble or went to dances like others did. No, it was not your fault. None of this is the fault of anything. It simply is what and who I am. Laying blame would be easy but wouldn’t help me one bit. The truth is that this is simply my obstacle in life, nothing more. If anything, by never pushing me, by not asking me to do the things I avoided but were ‘normal,’ you helped me immeasurably by allowing me to figure out my own ways of coping. Thank you for that. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen my mom cry, but it was the first time is seen her smile while doing it.”
18. “Mom and Dad, I wish you would’ve taken this seriously and got me the help I asked for. You’re my family, and I can’t count on you.”
19. “The most important thing you can do for me is to be supportive of the treatment plan I have chosen. Even though I still have bad days, it does not mean I’m going to give up. I appreciate you and your wisdom, but I also have to find my way.”
20. “I don’t always have control over my emotions or reactions. I try my best to stay in control, but it’s hard to constantly fight a battle I feel like I’m losing.”
21. “Mom and Dad, thank you so much for all you have done, for all you will do and for the love you have given me. You care for me in many ways — ways that allow me to still have an active life. I wish there was a way you didn’t have to help me financially. I am grateful for all you do, but most of all I’m grateful for the love you give me every day!”
22. “It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.”
*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.