Hearing that your teenager has a mental health condition can be a terrifying experience for any parent. The good news is that many mental health issues can be treated or controlled with a combination of medication and therapy. During the time following diagnosis, as well as whenever anything changes with your teen’s behavior, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to believe about the condition and your teen’s prognosis. Here are some ways to educate yourself on your teenager’s mental health condition.
Start With Your Teen’s Mental Health Care Professionals
Because your teen is an individual and has a specific set of circumstances, the best place to get information on your teen’s mental health condition is from his or her mental health care professional. Your child’s doctor knows exactly what the issue is, what has and has not worked so far, and what the future is most likely going to look like. While the mental health care professional cannot predict the future, they can probably tell you a lot more about the condition and the prognosis than any other source.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the doctors and therapists that your teen sees. Do be aware that there might be some information that cannot be shared with you without the consent of your teenager. The doctor or counselor should, however, be able to give you information about your teen’s diagnosis and what types of behaviors or symptoms you should watch for that might indicate that it’s getting worse or that you need to seek urgent care for your teen.
Talk to Your Teen About His or Her Feelings
Another excellent place to go to find out more about what your teenager is experiencing is to your teen him- or herself! While your child is probably not able to explain the mental health diagnosis to you better than the doctor, they can tell you how they’re feeling about the diagnosis, as well as how they’re feeling in general. Your teen is also the person who will know first if the condition seems to be getting worse, so you should encourage him or her to approach you if they have any concerns.
Your teen might be reluctant to talk to you about such a personal and potentially upsetting topic. You can help by keeping the conversation open and your responses non-judgemental. Try to avoid getting visibly emotional or upset when talking to your teenager; that is likely to make them want to shut down the conversation. Ask open-ended questions rather than those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Also, don’t be afraid to tell your teen that you don’t know the answer to any questions that he or she has; the two of you can find them out together.
Use the Internet With Care When Researching a Mental Health Condition
With access to the Internet literally at people’s fingertips via their smartphones, it’s extremely tempting to simply Google the condition that your teen has. If you’ve ever panicked at the diagnosis that “Dr. Google” has provided in the past, you know that this is often not a good idea. An Internet search often leads the user on a wild-goose chase through the forums and blogs of the World Wide Web, and these potentially unreputable sites are often chock-full of worst-case scenarios and blatant misinformation.
Do yourself a favor and stay off of random websites when it comes to researching a condition that your child has been diagnosed with. Also, don’t try to use medical websites to diagnose your teen before he or she sees a mental health professional. Ask the doctor for reputable websites to use if you would like more information. In general, government-run websites and those run by universities are often good sources of information. You can also see if your mental health care facility has a website, as these are often full of updated information about various topics that might pertain to your child.
Talk to Other Parents in Your Situation
A parental support group might be an excellent source of information. Meeting with other parents whose teens have gone through or are going through the same struggles as your own teen can allow you to share the trials and tribulations with someone who understands. There might be some scary, sad stories shared, and there might be some families who have experienced rare complications, but many of the stories you hear can make you feel hopeful.
In addition, a parent’s support group will give you people to lean on and ask advice of. If you would like to seek a second opinion, for example, other parents will be able to give you recommendations. If you have a specific concern, the other support group participants might be able to set your mind at ease or let you know that you should contact your teen’s doctor. As you become more familiar with your child’s condition, you’ll be in the position where you will be able to share advice with parents of newly diagnosed teens, too.
Pass on Your Knowledge to Your Teenager
As you learn information about your teen’s mental health condition, it’s important to share it with him or her. Remember that in a few years, your teenager will be the one making all of his or her health care decisions. It’s important that they have the information needed to make good choices and so they understand what’s happening and what to expect. If your teen seems like they don’t want to talk about it, you can discuss this with his or her mental health care professionals. They have the experience needed to know how to talk to teens about their health and how to encourage them to begin taking responsibility for their own well-being.
Getting through the weeks, months, and even years after your teen is diagnosed with a mental health condition can be overwhelming and stressful. Since knowledge is one of your best tools against fear, it’s important to learn all you can about the condition. Talk to your child’s doctors first to find out where you can find good advice and information, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your teen’s health depends on it, and it sets a good example for them to follow later when they are ready to take over the responsibility for their own mental health care.