Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Child Has a Mental Illness: Developing Parental Advocacy Skills

Being a parent of a child who suffers from mental illness can be challenging. Children who suffer from mental and emotional disorders need parents who will advocate for them. Many parents experience intense grief and isolation when they learn their child has been diagnosed with a mental illness. However, parents can take proactive steps to improve their situation by learning about their child’s diagnosis, finding community support, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, discovering resources and barriers to care, and organizing important information related to their child’s life.

Child mental health is an increasingly important issue in the United States. Approximately 20% of all children in the United States have a diagnosed mental health problem. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 10% of all youth have a serious mental or emotional disorder that interferes with daily life. In fact, more than 4 million U.S. children under the age of 18 have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, making childhood mental illness an issue that touches the lives of many American families.

Having a child diagnosed with a mental illness can create substantial emotional and financial burdens for families and can cause major changes in their lives. It is normal for parents to experience grief when a child is diagnosed with mental illness. They may, for example, experience incredible sadness because such a diagnosis can mean a different future than what they envisioned for their child, including extended caregiving responsibilities.

This type of grief is different from the traditional concept of "loss" typically experienced when a loved one dies because it is ongoing. In addition, research suggests that parents of children who have more than one severe mental health diagnosis may also experience even higher levels of parental stress and grief.
Families who receive a mental health diagnosis for their children often face uncertainty, which can cause expected processes, milestones, and life goals to change. Families should not expect to move through the grieving process in the same way as families who experience a death because new challenges may arise. For example, they may encounter new situations for their children, such as experiencing educational issues, seeking mental health services, dealing with emotional and behavioral manifestations of their child’s disability, and planning for future employment or long-term care for their child. These processes and milestones may bring ongoing feelings of loss as families are continually impacted by the realities of caring for a child with mental illness.

To download our complete publication go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY136500.pdf

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