Fair-weather family: When a support system neglects

family falling part

There would only be a sharp jolt to the cranium each session and several treatments later, the patient would be normal enough in the family’s eyes; if not, the child could be eschewed from society. This antiquated perspective on mental health treatment from U.S. history still fuels the stigma shadowing mental illness today. Even with advancements in treatment, call it pride, shame or anger — some families are still unsure or in denial of what to do and try to brush over their child’s mental illness.

You can go your own way

Teenagers can feel alone in dealing with their illness or disorder, while families may be at their breaking point trying to help. Fortunately, there are programs available for a young adult to receive proper care and lead a successful life.

Lloyd I. Sederer, M.D., writes about family experiences when a member is diagnosed with a mental illness. With the diagnosis, Sederer explains there are two things families struggle with:

  1. Understanding a broken mental health care system.
  2. Finding ways to help a loved one who will not help themselves.

Families may desire a quick and sure cure, a few months of therapy or medication but a mental illness can take patience, time and support. Parents may deny their child has an illness, allowing the symptoms to exacerbate over time.

Parents may not realize but mental illness does not mean a child will spend the rest of his or her adult life at home. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, describes the programs which can continue mental illness care and offer assistance for a patient’s needs, after treatment. Parents can hire the support needed and avoid burning out from stress.

Following treatment from a mental health facility, patients can determine the best housing situation based on a teen’s needed level of care. Since most mental illnesses are treatable, patients can thrive and function in society with assistance from family members or professional programs. Patients can live in group housing with others, monitored 24/7 or in their own apartment with someone who takes care of them daily.

A supportive housing option offers limited assistance and visits from trained professionals but patients, “Do have someone to call and resources available to them if a problem does arise,” NAMI explains. A patient in this style of housing can function almost entirely on his own, needing assistance from time to time.

How family can be supportive without burning out

While independence is important, family is a strong source of support for loved ones battling a mental illness or disorder but not the only area of support available.

Chief Medical Officer, Ash Bhatt, M.D., explains the necessity of support from families on the long road of treatment with a mental illness. In the situation where an individual struggles with a mental illness, families often, “Place unrealistic demands and have expectations of ‘flight to health,’ which can be very damaging to the individual.” Due to the unrealistic expectations, Bhatt adds parents may burn out more quickly than the length of the treatment process.

Family support groups help relieve some of the stress from full-time care and educate parents — which helps deciphering the best methods for care for their teen specifically.

White River Academy is a school for troubled boys ages 12 to 17, struggling with mental, behavioral or substance abuse issues. The academy provides treatment and care for the boys through disciplined guidance, continues a strong education program and instills character values. Parents attend family weekends once every quarter to visit their son and participate in parent seminars, equipping the parents with skills and tools necessary to lead a balanced life after their son’s treatment.

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