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How to Help Your Child Through a Mental Health Crisis

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I’ve come to realize that many parents actually don’t know how to help their children through a mental health crisis or what they can do to help before the crisis is reached. At the time of my own crisis, no one realized what was happening until it was too late and at the time, I didn’t think they could have done anything different that would have helped. That being said, I was also a severely suicidal teen detained in a psych ward, so who knows what was going through my mind. Now that I am in a slightly healthier frame of mind, I can look back and say, “this is what you could have done differently; this would have helped me loads,” or “you did exactly the right thing here.”

What can I say: hindsight is a wonderful thing. This got me thinking there are probably other parents out there that are struggling to know the right thing to do. So here are a few pointers:

1. Spend time with your child.

I can’t emphasize this one enough. With modern life getting more and more hectic, it is quite easy to leave a meal out for your kid or to just let them come home and go up to their room. When my mood first started dropping, Mum was spending a lot of time with an elderly neighbor so she was rarely in when I got home. She would then have to go out to meetings in the evenings, so it wouldn’t be rare for me to only see her in the morning for five minutes before school. A major symptom of depression is isolation and loneliness, so don’t forget to put aside some time to spend with your kid, even if it’s just eating dinner together as a family. It will make them feel included and whilst they may moan short term, they will thank you for it in the long run.

2. Ask them about their day.

As a parent, it is your job to protect your child, but how can you do this if you don’t know how their days are going? You need to know who your kid is friends with, which teachers they like or don’t like and whether they have had any issues. Knowing who your child is friends with will give you an idea as to what they may get up to, whilst knowing if they have had any issues can give you clues something may be wrong. You must keep an eye on them so they don’t slip away.

3. Stand up for them.

Yet another one I must emphasize. As a child, you often aren’t taken seriously by adults. This can have devastating impacts. If you don’t think your child is getting the help they need, or if you think people aren’t listening to your child, or even if you just think your child has too much homework, you must speak up for them. You are the one person standing in your child’s corner, so when your kid isn’t listened to, you need to make sure you are listened to on their behalf. Thankfully, my parents always stood up for me, but I know it was difficult at times. They had to argue with professionals to get sections lifted and medications changed. At a time when I was at my most vulnerable, I knew I had my parents standing up for me, even when I couldn’t find a voice.

4. Remember the little things count.

When your kid is upset, sit with them, hold them, let them cry. But don’t forget to have a bit of fun — make jokes, rant about the latest scandal, bitch about someone. Little things like this remind your child they are still human and that one day, things will get better. For me, the best thing was Mum getting points on my Costa Coffee card for me. Every time she visited me in hospital, she would grab herself a coffee. Each time she had enough points, I would get the card and treat a few friends to a Costa. It was something small and insignificant I could look forward to without having to actually think about or organize.

5. Look after yourself.

You can’t look after someone else if you aren’t looking after yourself. Make sure you take some “me” time to relax and think about something else. Everyone needs to take a break and that’s OK. I don’t know about you, but I find there is nothing better than a brisk morning walk to clear my mind. Make time for this, because if you burn out, then you won’t be able to help your kid as much.

If you’re reading this, then there is a good chance your kid is struggling, probably more than you know. Remember,  things do get better and it won’t always be like this. If you lose hope, then how is your child supposed to see a positive future?

Getty Images photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Originally published: December 11, 2017
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