This blog is written for the adolescents and young adults that have learned about their parent(s) mental illness diagnosis.
I am a child of a parent who has been diagnosed with depression during my late childhood. My adolescent and young adult years were the most difficult for me in terms of understanding depression & watching the depressive symptoms negatively impact my family. I had no guide to help me cope or manage my own emotions that I had towards my parent’s depressive symptoms.
These tips that I am sharing with you are parts of the road-map that I constructed for myself. You may find some of these tips unhelpful for you, depending on the severity or type of your parent’s mental illness. If so, please use these tips in a way that can assist you in finding your own ways of coping.
1.Become Knowledgeable: This tip is very important. The more (correct) knowledge you have about your parent’s diagnosis, the more likely you will be able to see your parent as the person they are, not as the symptoms. For example, my parent was and still is loving and supportive. However, when the depressive episodes take hold, the circulating negative thoughts temporarily prevent my parent from remaining in the moment with her family.
2. Find someone to talk to: Having a person you feel safe and comfortable talking with can be very helpful. This person can be either a therapist/counselor, a close relative, friend, or anyone else that will provide you with a safe place for you to express your emotions and share any challenges you’re experiencing. For me, I found a therapist and very close friends the most comforting because I, and my parent, wasn’t being judged or criticized. Who ever is this person for you, make sure they really listen to you and acknowledge your emotions and experiences.
3. Be kind to yourself and your parent: When I mention being kind to yourself, I mean giving yourself the allowance to feel how ever you feel each day. There were days when I was angry with how my parent’s depressive symptoms were impacting my family. I was sad some days because how I saw the depressive symptoms prevented my parent from getting out of bed some days. I was frustrated sometimes, too. I believe my ability to identify how I felt during these difficult years, and even today, have assisted me in increasing my understanding and compassion for my parent and their experiences. Once you are able to be kind to yourself, the kindness can expand to your parent.
4. Positively Interact with Your Parent: With depression, there may be times where the simplest tasks may be the most difficult, such as getting out of bed or cooking. I suggest modifying such activities so that you can do them with your parent. When I knew my parent didn’t want to cook because they lost their appetite, I suggested helping. Or even encouraging a game of scrabble. Playing any game or sharing a hobby that you and your parent can do together can remind the parent of the activities they enjoy when they are not in a depressed state. Lastly, if your parent doesn’t agree to any of your suggestions, use this time to focus on you. Doing a task that you enjoy can assist you in regulating your emotions and manage stress.
5. Start a Bucket List Together: This activity goes with #4. By starting a bucket list with your parent (when they are not in a depressed episode), can act as a verbal and written contract between the two of you. For instance, writing items on the list that are healthy and active, like simply walking around the block in your neighborhood or traveling to the beach, can (1) be a bonding experience for you two, (2) assists in getting both your parent and yourself active and moving, and (3) can create positive and rewarding experiences for all involved. Collaborating in the creation of this list can instill hope for your parent and your family.
6. Support for Siblings: When my parent experienced depressive episodes or was having a bad day, I stepped-up my duties as an older sister to include helping with homework, laundry, cooking and providing emotional support when it was needed. These tasks, for me at least, fit well with my role in the family as a mediator. When I noticed my sibling was having a difficult time, I tried my best to be a supportive. If it is too emotionally difficult or you are not at an age where this is possible, I suggest assisting them in finding someone they feel they can talk to (as suggested in tip #2).
7. Know & Believe that RECOVERY is possible: This tip is as simple as that.
Below, are resources that can assist you in collecting information, enhancing your knowledge about mental health and mental illness, and provide you with the reassurance that you, and your family, are not alone.
California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies: http://www.ccmha.org
Children of Parent with Mental Illness: http://www.copmi.net.au –> Even though this organization is based in Australia, there is lots of helpful information for children of parents with mental illness. There are resources for children, young adults, & parents.
Depression Facts: http://www.aboutdepressionfacts.com
Each Mind Matters: California’s Mental Health Movement: http://www.eachmindmatters.org
Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel: http://www.healthyplace.com
Mental Health America: Depression: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net
National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org –> Can provide information about mental illness as well as family support at chapters throughout the country