Mental Health and Your Child: Make the Hardest Call of All

I don’t want to make new friends. If they see the real me, if they find out I’m crazy, they won’t want to be my friend anymore.

With those words, my daughter broke my heart into pieces. How could my beautiful, smart, talented daughter think she was crazy? How could the girl who once made friends everywhere she went, feel so alone?

It was time to face the truth – my child was struggling with her mental health. I didn’t know if it was anxiety, depression, or something else. I just knew that she was sick, and when our kids are sick, mamas, we get them care.

Mental Health and Your Child: Make the Hardest Call of All

Still, no one prepares you for this. No one tells you that you might have a child with mental health issues. Everyone’s full of advice for sleeping, eating, napping, and more, but no one tells you how to navigate these waters. So, let’s talk about it. Let’s ignore the stigma that society gives mental health. How do you know when your child needs help from a psychologist or a therapist? When do you know to admit defeat and turn it over to someone else’s hands? 

How do you stop from feeling like you failed your child?

I obviously don’t have all the answers. But I have learned one thing. You know that inner voice we have? Some people call it mother’s’ intuition. Others call it inspiration. Whatever it is, listen to it.

I’d been hearing it for a long time. First, I dismissed it.

“She’s just spirited.”

“It’s just hormones.”

“Other people don’t understand her”.  

Then I thought I could overcome it on my own. I thought I could “fix” her by myself. I read articles, parenting books, and stalked online forums. Inside, I wanted to believe it was a phase. I hoped she would grow out of it. Instead, things had gotten worse, despite everything I’d tried.

Oh how I wish I had heeded that voice the first time, or even the tenth time, I heard it.

I was only brave enough to seek treatment because a friend of mine was open with the struggles she’s had with her child. She doesn’t sweep it under the rug or try to hide his diagnosis.  It’s not something she is ashamed of. So, when she mentioned some similarities in my daughter’s behavior and that of her son’s, I listened. She gave me courage to make the phone call I knew I needed to make, and gave me a recommendation of who to call. And, as her child is near adulthood and moving on to college, she gives me hope that we can come through this on the other end with a happy resolution.

My daughter has been in therapy for three months now. She had been diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, with many traits of Aspergers and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s going to be a long haul, but already she is improving. It fills me with guilt to know I could have, should have, done this for her much sooner. Luckily, nothing catastrophic has happened, but I have seen her struggles take a toll on her self-esteem, her confidence, and even her personality.  

Mental Health and Your Child: Make the Hardest Call of All

In society as a whole, we’ve made some great strides in being more open about mental health.  

But, we still have a long way to go. I am thankful to the people who are willing to share their struggles with me, so I can assure my daughter she’s not alone. I’m thankful to those who have given advice along the way. But I’m frustrated that my daughter feels she has to hide her weekly appointments from her friends and family. Even my husband doesn’t want people to know she’s seeing a therapist. Truthfully, I find it hard to talk about too! But is it so bad to say “I missed class because I had an appointment with my therapist”? Or “I have to go to the doctor a lot because I have anxiety and I’m learning how to manage it”?

One of my favorite people, Jeffrey R. Holland, said “There should be no more shame in acknowledging [mental health struggles] than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.” Until that day, let’s concentrate less on society’s voice and more to our gut intuition.

Are you hearing that voice right now?

The one that says, “There might be something more serious going on here.”  The voice that tells you this isn’t normal childhood behavior, or teen hormones, or whatever you’ve been reassuring yourself with. Let me be the friend who tells you it’s okay to admit you’re struggling.

That your child is struggling.

If things just aren’t right, make the call. When you read an article about anxiety, depression, etc. and alarm bells are going off because they just described your child, call your doctor, or a therapist, or even the school counselor. When your worry for your child takes over most of your waking thoughts (and even sometimes your dreams), make the call. Let me tell you the truth it took me a long time to accept:

You’re not failing your child if you need to get them more help. You only fail them if that help never comes.

Need help and not sure where to start?  

Here are some resources:

  1. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Linn County is a great resource and referral service. Visit their website or call their resource line at (319) 221-1184
  2. Schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor. He/she can screen for problems or refer you to someone who can.
  3. Not sure what to say? (This held me back for a long time.) Try this script: “Hello. My friend/doctor/etc. referred me to your office and I’d like to see if my child can get on the schedule of [therapist/counselor’s name]. I’m not sure what help she needs yet but I know it’s more than I can give him/her.” It worked for me. It’ll work for you.
  4. In crisis? Foundation 2 Crisis Center provides trained, compassionate telephone counselors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can reach a crisis counselor by calling (319) 362-2174 in the Cedar Rapids local calling area or 1-800-332-4224 anywhere else in Iowa. This crisis center serves the state of Iowa.
  5. Suicide Prevention Line: (800) 273-TALK or (800) SUICIDE

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