Watching Amanda struggle, as a parent, was one of the most difficult situations we faced. We felt powerless, alone, and afraid. Not only did this affect her, but it affected the entire family as well.
As we began dealing with her illnesses, we knew we needed to support her 100%, unconditionally, and began to put strategies into place to help her succeed.
The following is a list of suggestions that helped us help her.
1. Listen. Listen to what your child is telling you. Don’t correct them, don’t try to change them, or convince them. Just listen. Just because you are listening and reflecting does not mean you automatically agree with them. What it does mean is that you are doing everything you can to understand them and their experience. Like anyone, people with mental illness want to be heard and understood. Unfortunately, for someone with a mental illness, this doesn’t happen often. Really understanding what they are feeling can rebuild trust.
2. We are on the same team. Don’t just tell them this, show them. Show them by working collaboratively, listening without an agenda, partnering in decision-making, and setting boundaries when necessary. Telling the child what they need, what they should do, or what you know will help them will only make them resist even more.
3. Ask your child what they need to feel safe. They may not know. If your child is experiencing suicidal ideation and thoughts of self-harm, it is critical to make sure they feel safe. We developed a checklist to assess her mood each day when she was feeling most vulnerable. At times she was annoyed by it, but it was the best way to keep her safe.
4. Set boundaries. When Amanda was at her worst, our top priority was keeping her safe. There were many trips to the ER when she was at risk of harming herself and it was at those moments that we had to set up safety measures in our home to protect her.
5. Unconditional love. We let her know daily that we would always be there for her and that we loved her unconditionally. Home is her safe place, free of judgement. She was able to come home and vent about anything and we would listen and help her through whatever challenge she faced.
6. Ask for help. It was important to find the right programs, doctors, and therapists when dealing with mental illness. For Amanda, it took some time, but eventually we found the right program and therapist that has made all the difference.
The only constant in life is change. Recovery is possible and people have the ability to take control of their lives again. It may feel impossible, but with time, it can happen.
Here is an example of a checklist we used.