Parenting A Mentally Ill Child

Taken from Schizophrenia Magazine whose website is located   HERE.  This magazine is also a new resource.  Allan

His rages were ugly. Fits of yelling, shrieking, hitting, swearing, kicking, and slamming had become daily occurrences. These weren’t the normal tantrums of a young boy. His mother, Monica Kriese, was certain of that.

“When he raged, it was ugly,” recalls the Salmon Arm, British Columbia, resident. “At one point I thought, ‘Is he truly possessed?’ He [would say] the most foul things. He would put swears together to make up even more obscene swears. It was scary to see that in my child. It was scary to see him get so worked up and so worn out and so tired.”

As early as age 3, Kriese’s son Cameron was exhibiting dangerous and disruptive behaviors. “If he could find matches or a lighter, he liked to play with them. We had a gas stove and I once caught him putting a pipe cleaner into the flame,” she says.
By age 5, Cameron had been kicked out of four daycares. “The daycares didn’t want to keep him any longer. He couldn’t get along with the other kids. He was too hard to deal with and his explosions were getting stronger.”

At first Kriese blamed her parenting abilities. “I thought maybe there was something I was neglecting to do for him or that as a single parent, my need to work was having an impact on him.” So she took Cameron―several times―to see the doctor. But each time she was told there was nothing wrong.

“In kindergarten, they told me he needed to be medicated because he might have ADHD (attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder),” Kriese says. “I took him to the pediatrician, but she couldn’t see any one strong characteristic―not even ADHD―because at times Cameron could sit for hours and play with his Lego or plasticine. I was told it was all in my head and that he [was] just a normal boy with normal boy behaviors. But I just knew something was terribly wrong.”

Frustrated, stressed, and tired, Kriese says she was “at wits end,” feeling isolated and helpless.

“I had no one to help me with my son,” she says. “[i] no family in town and friends who no longer wanted to have us around due to his behavior. I felt alone and my son’s issues were affecting my health.”

In grade 3, Cameron was finally diagnosed with childhood bipolar disorder.

Finding help isn’t always easy
Kriese’s experience is not unique. Just raising a child is stressful and demanding, but raising a child who suffers from a mental illness brings significant challenges to a parent’s skills and resources.

“There’s a variety of challenges and some of those depend on the nature of the child’s mental illness and how the child’s mental illness presents,” says Nadine Kaslow, a clinical psychologist and professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “Parents can struggle with an assortment of emotions. If you have a child who is misbehaving all the time and getting into all sorts of trouble, then the parents may be mad at the child and very frustrated with the child. If the child has a psychotic illness or manic depression, parents might just be very worried about their child. It can range from sadness to anger, to frustration, to even a sense of helplessness.”

For Jennifer Robbins, an overwhelming sense of helplessness is something she faces every day.  The Michigan native says she often feels as though she has no idea how to help her 9-year-old son.

“There aren’t a whole lot of resources to help,” she says. “He’s not suffering academically in school, so I was told he couldn’t be put into the specialized education program. But he needs help learning how to deal with his emotions and some of his social behaviors.”
Robbins says there is frequently a high level of stress at home when her son is going through a rough period. He was diagnosed with ADHD; his emotions can be quite intense, he gets frustrated easily, and Robbins says she doesn’t know what to do.

“Right now I’m in the process of finding some counselling services for him and it’s been really tough because we live in a small town. When I called my insurance company, they gave me the numbers of three places in the area. One of the places was closing and one of the providers had recently passed away. So two out of three weren’t even available anymore. There just aren’t a lot of options.”

A major challenge for parents with mentally ill children is the barrier to services and a shortage of children’s mental health professionals, says Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) Child and Adolescent Action Center. “In our nation, there are about 7,500 child and adolescent psychiatrists with a need of about 20,000. So you have a lot of communities―particularly rural and frontier communities―in which it is very difficult for families to access psychiatric services for their child. The shortage is not just in the child psychiatry area, but it’s also with psychologists and with social workers. As a result, many parents are forced to be the case manager for their child.”

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