The One Thing Every Parent Should Tell Their Child Struggling With Mental Illness
My dad is my best friend. He is the first person I call when something big and exciting happens in my life, the person I pester when I can’t figure out how to do things like fill out paperwork or when my phone breaks, and the person I run to when the day smacks me in the face and all I can do is sit in a puddle of my own tears. Maybe you’re blessed to have a parent like this, maybe you are that parent, or maybe this doesn’t resonate with you at all — whatever the case, I want you to know it wasn’t always like this.
My dad may be my best friend, but we’re just now learning how to support one another after spending my teens and early 20s struggling with mental illnesses that consumed my every thought and action.
Although I wasn’t necessarily an angel throughout those years, it was incredibly hard for him to provide the emotional support I needed, making me feel alone, isolated, uncared for and unloved. I couldn’t help but think, “I am not enough for the one person that is supposed to unconditionally love me.”
Although I don’t know exactly what he thought or felt as he watched my struggle with mental illness evolve and shape-shift into different beasts like anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and an eating disorder — I can only imagine it was a lot of fear, sadness and frustration. Because now that I’m older, I realize how difficult it is to watch those we love — family or not — struggling. And every person reacts to those struggles and that fear and sadness and frustration in different ways — sometimes it’s a helpful reaction, but other times, like in my dad’s case, it’s not.
At my worst, when my dad felt so distant and unavailable, the one thing I wish he had told me was: I love you and will support you and will be there for you — no matter what. And when I say “no matter what,” I mean: no matter what size I am, no matter what symptom or behavior I’m struggling with right now, whether I do or don’t have a job, whether I’m in school or not, if I’m in treatment or not, no matter what medication I need or where this life takes us.
Maybe things would have turned out differently if he would have told me that — maybe they wouldn’t have. Either way, I think it would have made me feel less judged and less alone by the one person I wanted to be there for me more than anything.
So if your child — or anyone you know — is struggling and you’re reading this, please remember to tell them you love them and will support them and will be there for them, no matter what.
Never doubt the power of a few words, they can make all the difference.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
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Getty image via JackF