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To Parents Supporting Their Adult Children Living With Mental Illnesses

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I was 21 years old when I had my mental break and thought someone had followed me home at night. This night led to years of intensive therapy, medication changes, hospitalizations and insecurity. I could not have gotten through these tough years without the love, support and advocacy of my mom and dad. They are my superheroes.

Now, at 28, I work at a mental health clinic taking walk-ins and call-ins of people looking for resources or guidance on options. Nearly half the individuals I have spoken with are the parents of adults with mental health issues. I recognize the concern, uncertainty and care that I witnessed from my own parents when I was ill. Parents are expected to support their children when they are young, and parents of those with mental health issues often act as advocates when their children are adults.

As an adult with mental illness, I want to let parents know:

By showing acceptance and support, you are not only fighting for your child, but you are also fighting stigma. There are too many instances of people staying silent or ignoring mental health issues based on society’s perception of mental illness. When you acknowledge your child’s struggles, you send the message that mental illness is as credible as physical illness. This acknowledgement may be the first step of your child seeking help.

You do not need to be a mental health professional to support your child. My mom is a first-grade teacher and had studied psychology in school. She was aware of coping strategies, the Americans with Disabilities Act and could navigate the mental health system. My dad is a carpenter, and my diagnosis was his first encounter with mental illness. He escorted me in and out of appointments, drove my family six hours to visit me in the hospital and researched my illness to make sure he was providing the best care possible. My parents had very different experiences and exposure to mental illness, but their primary goal was to help me feel safe and comforted and ensure I had access to treatment. Your mental health education and advocacy skills may take time, but compassion is the backbone of being a supporter.

You play a crucial role in ensuring you children’s well-being until they are ready to support or advocate for themselves. For many years throughout my illness, I could not fight for my rights or understand my treatment alone. There were times when my panic was so bad that I could not even attend appointments without having my parents with me. As I recovered, I gained the skills and confidence to ask questions, recognize my symptom, and speak up for myself when I did not agree with a treatment option. I could not have done this without my parents. You have the power to help your child believe that recovery is possible.

Your adult children are still adults, and we desire independence and trust. Nobody chooses to develop a serious mental illness. When we are struggling, we mourn the lives we could have had. While we appreciate your support and advocacy, we want you to remember our strengths and potential to recover. Your hope can give us hope.

There is support for you out there. It is common and understandable to feel sad, scared or isolated. Taking care of yourself is essential to be able to help others. Parents of adults with serious mental illness or any mental health issues have options for finding help. Local mental health centers and organizations often hold support groups or walk-in services for family members. Warmlines to call when you just need to talk are available nationally and locally. The internet and social media websites have support pages and online groups for parents, and you can likely find one specific to your child’s diagnosis.

Lastly, talking to a trusted friend or family member can be your deepest level of support. Finding a loved one to open up to is healing and provides the comfort and encouragement to stay strong. You are deserving of the same love and care that you are giving your child.

To any parent of an adult with mental illness, your strength, understanding, and unconditional love are inspiring. To parents who are new to this journey, you are not alone. To my own parents, you truly saved my life.

Photo by Eddie Kopp on Unsplash

Originally published: May 29, 2020
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