Question: What does it mean when people say we need to treat mental illness the same way we treat physical illness?
Answer: When a child is diagnosed with a chronic physical illness, such as living with juvenile diabetes, their parents typically do everything they can to learn absolutely everything about diabetes, what the signs and symptoms of high or low blood sugars are, how to properly administer insulin, and the appropriate accommodations their child needs in their varied settings. In fact, parents of children with diabetes are often provided counseling on nutrition and medications, support and encouragement, and educational classes for how to manage the disease day to day. They are given reading material, online resources, a 24 hour nurse line, and a myriad of kits and age appropriate materials for their children. As with any serious medical condition, parents want to learn all they can in order to meet their child’s needs, see their child thrive, share the best possible quality of life, and achieve stability and wellness.
But when a child is diagnosed with a mental health disorder these comprehensive support systems aren’t offered or implemented, and families are often left feeling confused, without the information and resources they need to understand how to best help their children.
We have to remember that living with a mental illness is living with a serious medical condition. Families need the same level of information and support in order to understand the challenges they and their child are facing in regards to the illness. When a child is diagnosed with a mental health disorder it’s essential for parents to be able to learn as much as they can with as much support as possible.
For example, if a child lives with bipolar then knowledge of the symptoms of depression, mania, mixed mood episodes, and ultra rapid cycling is vital. These kinds of episodes need to be identified as symptoms and differentiated from willful behaviors so they can be treated appropriately by family and caregivers. The symptoms also need to be reported accurately to the child’s providers in order to help inform treatment decisions. It simply isn’t appropriate to expect that parents and caregivers should understand how to do this without education, coaching, support, and encouragement.
Children and adolescents benefit when their parents and caregivers partner with physicians to make decisions about what medications are going to best manage symptoms. This requires parents to have knowledge about terminology, how symptoms present, which medications treat their child’s illness and which are contraindicated, what symptoms each medication is targeting, and how to assess what impact those medications are having.
Additionally, parenting approaches can be adapted to specifically address the symptoms to decrease stress within the home for everyone living there. It is also important for parents to understand what a mental health emergency looks like, how to manage it, and who to contact. Having the right treatment plan, as early as possible, is critical to achieving better outcomes sooner.
But again, parents aren’t magically granted these fundamental skills when a diagnosis and a prescription are given. Currently it’s still up to parents to find their own support system, education, and resources for managing at home. But you’re not alone and don’t have to reinvent the wheel. CMHRC is here to help.
CMHRC provides families and providers with all the support, education, resources, and encouragement needed to ensure you and your child are able to learn, manage, and thrive. Reach out today.
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