Once you have gotten past the initial feelings that may accompany a mental health diagnosis, your role as a parent is to step up and figure out how to best support your teen as he or she goes through the recovery process. No one would describe this role as simple or easy, but there are some things you can do to make your child’s recovery go a bit more smoothly for them and for you. Here are some tips on how to support your teen through mental health recovery without losing your grasp on the other important things and people around you.
Engage in Self-Care
Yes, you need to be there for your child during what is likely the most difficult thing he or she has ever had to do up to this point. It’s also vitally important that you take care of yourself. If you neglect your own health, both physical and mental, you run the risk of burning out and not being able to support your teen.
Make a concerted effort to eat properly, to get enough sleep, to exercise, and to take care of your other physical needs. See your doctor if necessary, and don’t forget to make a counseling appointment or join a support group. Journaling can help. Also, make time for your friends and your hobbies; every moment cannot be dedicated only to your child’s condition. Set aside some “worry-free” time where you can focus on having fun and simply enjoying life. This is easier said than done, so talk to your own therapist or to your support group for tips.
Don’t Be Afraid to Insist That Your Teen Follow Instructions
Depending on your child and your parenting style, your teen may be used to having a lot of freedom when it comes to making decisions. This is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly during the teen years! However, during the intensive treatment phase of his or her condition, you might need to step in and call the shots.
Your teen’s mental health care team will give you and your child strong suggestions on how he or she can get better. There will be therapy involved, there might be an inpatient treatment component, and there might be medications. Talk to the doctors and ask whatever questions you need to, but once a treatment plan has been decided upon, enforce it. Don’t let your teen decide not to take his or medications or whether or not to attend therapy. If you are having a hard time getting your adolescent to do what they are supposed to be doing, talk to the health care team; they have seen this behavior before and will be able to help.
Encourage Your Teen to See Past His or Her Diagnosis
Remember that your teen is so much more than a diagnosis. As an adult, you might have trouble keeping that in mind at times. Imagine how much more difficult it is for your teen to remember this important truth! One way to support your teen is to help him or her see all of the wonderful things that they enjoyed doing and being before the diagnosis and treatment. Maybe your son loves sports and is a gifted athlete. Perhaps your daughter is an amazing listener and friend. Those parts of your teen are still there. Be sure to encourage him or her to use those talents, passions, and abilities throughout the treatment phase, if at all possible. Looking ahead to the time after treatment can give your child hope that life will return to normal (or a more functional version of normal).
Support Your Teen by Providing Continuing Care
Once your teen is out of the treatment facility or is no longer seeing his or her mental health care professional very often, you must provide continuing care to help keep your teen on the right track. This can encompass a wide range of supportive activities, depending on what type of issue your child is struggling with. For example, you might continue bringing your teen to support group meetings as often as recommended. There might also be follow-up phone calls that you can help coordinate if your child is not taking the lead. Also, be sure you are monitoring whether medications are being taken appropriately.
It’s also important to be aware of signs that things are going awry. For a teen who has been cutting him- or herself, for example, keep your eyes open for signs that the behavior is not under control. For instance, a teen engaging in self-mutilation might start wearing long sleeves during the summer or spending an inordinate amount of time alone.
Learn to Trust Again
One hurdle that you’ll need to get through is that of trusting your teen again. It can be difficult to allow your teenager to spend time with friends, spend time alone, and begin living a normal life once the inpatient treatment phase has ended. You might feel a loss of control and this can lead you to become too controlling, which, in turn, might prompt your teen to rebel and refuse to talk to you.
One way to learn to trust again is to keep the lines of communication open with your teen. Be upfront and let him or her know that if they don’t talk to you, you might need to compromise their privacy to get the information that you need. Since you (and your teen) don’t want to have to resort to that, communication needs to be a team effort between you and your teenager. If you can talk through issues, you will naturally be able to extend more trust. Also, talk to your support group members about how they handled this with their own teens.
Going through recovery for mental health issues is going to be hard on both you and your teenager. Knowing how to best support your teen through this trying time can not only keep your child safe, but can also bring the two of you closer together. It’s worth it to learn how to be the supportive parent that he or she needs, and in the future, you’ll be able to look back on this time as a journey you worked through together.