Getting a mental illness diagnosis can uncover a wide range of emotions from anyone. When a teenager is in this situation, his or her feelings can be even more amplified; in general, teens have a lot of fluctuating emotions even without a mental health issue. If you are the parent of a teen who has recently been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, a substance addiction, an eating disorder, or any other mental health condition, you are understandably overwhelmed, as is your child. Here are some steps to take after receiving a mental illness diagnosis.
Accept All Emotions as Valid
You and your teen might have some very strong feelings about the mental illness diagnosis. One might be fear. Another might be anger. At the same time, you might feel relief that your concerns have been validated. Your teen might feel hopeless… or he or she might feel hopeful that finally a solution is in sight. All of these are legitimate emotions, and they can all exist at the same time.
Encourage your teen to talk about their feelings with you, another trusted adult, their mental health care team, or trustworthy friends. Try to focus on the positive aspects of receiving a diagnosis. For example, now that you know what the problem is, you can put your teen into a treatment program that will most likely help him or her get better. You can also stop worrying about what might be wrong; concrete information can be less frightening than what-ifs.
Do Some Research About the Mental Illness Diagnosis
Your child’s mental health care team is an excellent resource for learning all you can about the condition. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and encourage your teen to do so, as well. Ask about what to expect, what treatment will be like, what type of timeframe you are looking at, and what life will be like after treatment is complete. Do keep in mind that everyone is an individual, and that some people respond differently to treatments. If you have questions or concerns about medications or therapies, go ahead and ask.
While the Internet is a great tool and can help you find information quickly, be aware that not everything you read online is true or accurate. Ask your child’s health care providers if there are certain websites that they recommend. You can also look at government or major medical center websites for accurate information. Reading web forums and blogs can be interesting and might give you insight, but realize that those are not written by professionals and that they might or might not portray reality.
Work on a Recovery Plan
Your child’s mental health counselors will likely help him or her develop a recovery plan. This is a written list of goals. Some will be long-term, and some will be short-term. There will also be daily tasks to accomplish that will help your teen take small steps toward those goals. For example, a teen suffering from major depression might have the daily goal of simply getting up and getting dressed each morning. There might be daily or weekly therapy sessions to attend, and medications that need to be taken each day. Once this recovery plan is set, do your best to support your teen as he or she follows it.
Part of the plan also might be for your child to track how he or she is feeling each day (or even more frequently). This can be a good tool for seeing progress over time, because during bad days, it can be hard to see how far someone has come. If the good days begin to outnumber the bad (and they will), it’s nice to have that documented to look back on later.
Encourage a Healthy Routine
Remember that a mental illness diagnosis is only one part of your child’s overall health. He or she still needs to take steps to stay physically and emotionally healthy in addition to following the plan for recovery.
Try to make sure that your teen is eating well. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, and whole grains. Encourage them to be moderate when it comes to empty calories such as soft drinks, chips, and sweets. Also, encourage physical activity. If your teen likes sports and is on a team, try to keep him or her involved in that, if possible. Talk to the coach if your child is in an inpatient program; maybe a spot can be held for when they come out and return to school. Even going for a walk each day can help reduce stress and improve overall health.
Finally, try to ensure that your teen gets enough sleep. Sleep can reduce anxiety, improve health, and make treatment easier. If your child isn’t sleeping well, try methods of improving sleep hygiene. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to his or her doctor for additional help. Sleep medications might be warranted if insomnia or frequent waking is an issue.
Look Forward to Life After Treatment
In most cases, the acute phase of mental health treatment is relatively short. Once your teen is out of inpatient or daily treatment, it will be time to get back into “normal life.” Remember that this might be a new and improved normal for your teen, particularly if he or she has been struggling for a while.
On difficult days remind your child to look forward to those days. There will be a time when they’ll be able to cope with the stresses of everyday life without spiraling into destructive thought patterns or actions, and looking ahead to those times can be just what is needed to get through the tougher days of the recovery process.
As a parent, you want to make things better for your child. Getting a proper mental illness diagnosis and into the appropriate treatment can do just that. You and your teen will make it through this time by working carefully with mental health professionals. Don’t hesitate to get help for yourself if needed; a support group or counseling for parents can help you better support your teen as he or she works through this phase of life.