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Dear Parents of Children With a Mental Illness

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Dear parents of children with mental illness,

First and foremost, you did not cause your child’s mental illness. Stop analyzing every minute of their existence. It has absolutely nothing to do with taking their binky away too soon or letting them cry in their crib so you could take a shower. There is nothing you could have done — or not done — that would have prevented this. Your child’s mental illness is not a reflection of you as a parent. As a matter of fact, you have my vote for parent of the year!

Seriously, you’re the one who puts your entire life on hold to support your child who has a mental illness. You hug, rock and reassure your child even when inside you’re beaten down. You parent when parenting ain’t easy, and that makes you strong.

Second, it’s OK to hurt. It’s OK to be sad. That’s your baby. It’s OK to feel exhausted and cry and wonder how you’re going to get through this. It’s OK to feel like giving up — but knowing damn well you never will.

Make sure you find some support for you. I know, between therapy appointments, medication management and IEP meetings who has time for self-care? Make the time. Do not feel guilty for needing a break. Take the time to explain to them why you might not be able to attend the next family function. Let them know you can’t always make or stick with plans because, quite simply, some days are good, some days aren’t. If they judge you, and some will, so be it. (I will refrain from saying exactly what I think of those that judge what they don’t understand.)

Disregard the ever so unhelpful remarks about little Johnny “just needing a whooping” or my all time favorite: “My child would never act that way.” But you will find some support.  You may even find someone close to you is going through something similar. You never know until you talk about it. Don’t be ashamed — you did not cause your child’s mental illness.

My name is Lisa and my 18-year-old daughter was first diagnosed at age 12. She has bipolar disorder with severe anxiety disorder. She hurts herself. Nothing will destroy your parental soul more than seeing your child hurt herself. It breaks you in ways you never knew were possible. For a long time I hid this from everyone. I just knew I was the worst mother in the world. I was ashamed, but not of her. I was ashamed of me. I had broken my child. Carrying around all that guilt and self-blame was destroying me, and it made it harder to help her.

So I talked to a therapist. I began to open up to my friends and family. I met other parents who were going through the same thing. I became an advocate for mental health awareness. I became stronger, I became healthier and, first and foremost, I learned that I did not cause my child’s mental illness.

And I want the same for you.

The Mighty is asking the following: Parents of children with mental illnesses – tell us a story about working within the mental health system. What barriers of treatment have you experienced? What’s a change in the system that could help your child? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: December 3, 2015
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