An Open Letter to Parents Whose Child Has a Mental Illness

Dear Parent/Guardian,

I’m sure you’re feeling scared, confused, and maybe even angry or upset. You don’t understand how this child; the one you’ve protected, cared for, and continually loved, is now suffering. You did everything in your power to keep this child safe, and now you can’t wrap your head around the fact that maybe, just maybe, you didn’t do enough. When you first found out your child had a mental illness; whether it was through a doctor, therapist, or maybe even personal knowledge, you probably were in denial. You didn’t want to accept the fact that your child needed help, and you didn’t want to believe that everything you provided to your child had gone to waste.

What you need to know, however, is that nothing you ever did went to waste. Rather, it helped shape your child to be the fine individual they are today. And now, they need you more than ever to help them get through this difficult time. So, it is time to take a step up and provide your child with the tools necessary in order for them to feel as if, yet again, they are loved, cared for, and valued in this world. In order to do this, you have to come down off your high horse, and accept what is going on. I can only imagine how hard this is to do, as you are still processing the fact that your child needs help. Nonetheless, just because your child has a mental illness, doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. Rather, by you accepting what is going on and providing your child with the help they need, you are proving how much of an amazing, caring, and loving parent you truly are.

You may be feeling ashamed, and possibly even embarrassed to talk openly about the struggles your child is going through. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Think about it this way... your child wakes up with a sore throat, you don’t hesitate before taking them to the doctor, and while there, you are comforting them throughout the whole process. The doctor comes back into the room and informs you that your child has strep throat. Immediately, you drive over to your local pharmacy, pick up your child’s prescription, and maybe even their favourite ice cream. When you get back home, you don’t hesitate to call the school and tell them your child will be home for a few days in order to recover. However, now that your child has been “diagnosed” with a mental illness, why are you acting differently? Why are you taking a step back, and hoping that it will get better on its own?  Are you afraid you’ll mess up? Are you embarrassed? What is really holding you back? These are questions you need to ask yourself, as believe it or not, your child needs you more now than they did when they had strep throat.

The thing is, when your child had strep throat, they knew it would get better. They knew that with some homemade soup, their prescription, a few days off of school, and your unconditional love and care, they would be back to new in a couple days. With a mental illness, they have no idea what’s going on. They are afraid to speak about how they’re feeling, and ultimately, they start losing hope. Mental health issues are on the rise among youth in society today, and if you don’t believe me, here are some statistics provided by Youth Mental Health Canada. Firstly, it is important to understand that mental illness is the number ONE disability affecting people in the world.

Meaning, this is an illness that is preventing youth from reaching their full potential and having the greatest quality of life possible. Every day in Canada, 11 youth die from suicide. And, of these 11 youth, 9 of them have some or even many indications of their intentions. You have the chance now, while your child is showing signs, while you have the option to support them, to do so before it’s too late. You would never be able to live with yourself if you didn’t get them the help they needed, just because you were afraid, ashamed, or confused. They are feeling that way too, and need as much support as they can possibly get. Nevertheless, before you can help your child, you need to help yourself.

Getting educated on youth mental health and understanding what your child may be experiencing is extremely important. If you aren’t ready or comfortable to speak to a doctor or therapist about this, a quick Google search will provide you with an abundant amount of resources. Read through some of these, speak to others who are going through the same thing, and get comfortable with what is going on, because whether you like it or not, your child’s mental illness will be intertwined within your life for a very long time. Once you become both educated and comfortable, it’s time to focus on your child and give them that same care you gave them when they had strep throat.

Help them make a plan to deal with what is going on. This may include taking them to a therapist, speaking with your family doctor, or just being there for a shoulder to cry on. I know it’s hard to accept that your child, your pride and enjoy, your everything, is going through a challenging time. It’s okay to feel upset, scared, and confused, but just remember that they are feeling this way too. The stigma and/or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community. “Suicidal youth are in pain. They don’t necessarily want to die; they want their pain to end. If their ability to cope is stretched to the limit, or if problems occur together with a mental illness, it can seem that death is the only way to make the pain stop” (YMHC, 2018). Help stop this pain. Help make a difference in your child’s life. And help them realize that with time, things will get better, and so will they. 

If you or someone you know is going through a challenging time, here are some sites to help make the dark days seem a bit brighter.