Thanks, Mom and Dad — When Parents Help Their Children Cope with Mental Illness

Parents can play in their child’s journey toward mental health. To illustrate just how much of a difference they can make, I’d like to share the role my parents played on my road to recovery.

Due to the trouble I was having in elementary school both academically and socially, my second grade teacher approached my parents with the possibility that I had ADHD and OCD.  Since my parents accepted the idea that their child may have a disorder, they did not hesitate to work with my teacher to get the evaluations I needed to obtain the accommodations that would help me succeed. This early intervention allowed me to begin counseling and medication early in my education. This was particularly vital in terms of the medication because finding the perfect balance of ADHD and OCD medications required quite a bit of time, as well as trial and error.

While this process was going on, my parents joined a support group (with other parents whose children had similar disorders and illnesses) and learned ways to help me and improve my self-esteem, which had taken quite a hard hit.  Because I was having trouble in so many things that came more naturally to other children, it was vital for them to find the areas where I personally excelled.  In order to do this, they encouraged me to try a variety of different activities, from school sports to guitar lessons to horseback riding.

In the end, it turned out that the areas I excelled most in were drawing anime/manga and presenting science experiments at science fairs, the latter of which earned me awards at both my school and county levels. This discovery happened when I was in junior high, and it ended up being even more important in maintaining my self esteem when I started showing symptoms of still another disorder: trichotillomania.

In the past, I’ve written about how advocating for greater awareness of this compulsive hair pulling disorder ended up helping me better understand and cope with my own experiences with this condition. However, like many others who pull or pick, advocacy was not something that I embarked on right away. Once again, it was largely my parents’ observation and quick research that led to me to a quick diagnosis.  Although treatment for trichotillomania was still a much newer territory at the time, my parents were there to help and support me through each step of the way. After attending a conference about it and meeting other people who have this disorder, we learned how to better streamline our strategies. When an opportunity to present on a disorder arose in my health class, my mother encouraged me to educate others on trichotillomania. From there, she continued to help me organize myself so that I could speak at local schools, and even with a news reporter from The Washington Post, to further spread the word on trichotillomania.

Like many illnesses and disorders, the key is to find that you are not alone in your struggle. These conditions are not your fault, and help is available.  These same reminders also apply to parents. Acceptance, understanding, and encouragement are extremely important, so parents and support groups play a pivotal role in an individual’s recovery and success.  Since my parents encouraged me to embrace my challenges, I am happy with the person I have become.  By learning from all of my experiences, I was able to discover my niche in the world.  I went on to have an amazing college experience and am looking forward to the future.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Featured image courtesy of the author.

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