So, you just found out that your adult child has a mental health diagnosis. Maybe you are feeling scared, confused and don’t want to screw up the lines of communication between the two of you. Truthfully, it’s normal to be a little worried about keeping your relationship safe and loving.
The good news is that some simple actions can help you respond to your adult child with love and support. However, please be aware that there are also things you could do or say that could damage your relationship with your child. Your response can positively affect how your child feels about their diagnosis.
Mental Health Issues Can Be Challenging
It is not easy to be the parents of adult children. It’s a delicate balance of respect and love; frankly, most of us are learning as we go. We get plenty of information and advice on parenting little kids, but we can feel a little lost once they become adults.
It’s so important that your adult child has chosen to share their mental health issues with you. You might be relieved, knowing that there is an answer to some of the challenges that your child has been facing. Or you might find yourself questioning the credibility of the mental health diagnosis, possibly feeling skeptical about the information you are hearing from your child.
When your adult child shares their mental health diagnosis, it can be challenging and confusing for the entire family. As a parent, you know it’s essential to be understanding and supportive, but it can be hard to know how to react.
Mental Illness vs. Mental Health Disorder
Mental illness is a broad term that covers a wide range of experiences, from feeling overwhelmed and anxious to having difficulty managing emotions. On the other hand, a mental disorder is a specific diagnosis that requires treatment and should be discussed with a mental health professional.
Mental Health Diagnoses Can Be Isolating
Each person has a unique experience navigating their mental health. It is crucial to choose your words carefully to show respect and acceptance around mental health issues. Frankly, much of our language around mental health is outdated and offensive. To support your adult child, take some time to learn how to talk about mental health issues without being ignorant or offensive. Be prepared to apologize if you realize that you are using terms or phrases that feel disrespectful to your child.
A mental health diagnosis can be overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be a negative experience. With support and understanding, you can help your child feel empowered and in control of their diagnosis.
An important reminder: a mental health diagnosis does not reflect your parenting or your child’s character.
Even though they are adults, they still need your love, understanding, and acceptance. It’s essential to have an open and curious space to talk about mental health issues, no matter how old your child might be.
Talking About Mental Health With Your Adult Child
Go Ahead, Do These Things:
Listen carefully and respectfully.
This is the number one thing you must do; your response will set the tone for the future relationship. Being an open and curious listener will help your adult child feel connected and safe with you. If you respond with teasing or disrespect, you will likely lose the privilege of supporting your grown child.
Most people struggle with talking about mental health and often will respond with teasing or disrespect to break the tension they feel inside. Remember, this is a first-impression type of conversation; how you respond will impact the level of information your child shares.
You might be relieved that your adult child finally has gotten the help they need. Go ahead and rejoice with them, making sure they know how grateful you are that they choose to share with you.
Knowing your child has taken the steps to care for their mental health should feel reassuring. Even if you don’t completely understand the diagnosis, reassure them that you trust their judgment and are thankful they will get specialized help and support.
Be prepared to listen without judging or jumping to conclusions.
Offer support and empathy, and let your child lead the conversation. Please encourage them to express their feelings and validate their experiences. Active listening can help your adult child feel heard and understood, which can be immensely comforting.
Some parents might feel frustrated and, honestly, a bit annoyed when their child shares their mental health update. It may feel like they are being dramatic or looking for excuses to explain their questionable behavior. You must avoid making assumptions or minimizing their experiences.
Truth time: some of us have frustrating adult kids. They confuse us, make us question their choices, and some days we feel worn out by their behaviors. Accepting that not every parent has an enjoyable relationship with their adult child is okay.
But in this situation, you must listen with understanding and acceptance, even if you are skeptical! Your child is a grown adult and deserves the respect you would give any adult in a similar conversation. Be aware of language that might feel controlling or overly parental as you respond to their personal beliefs or choices.
Ask them to share information that helped them understand their diagnosis.
Ask for more resources when your adult child shares their mental health issues with you. Most people have spent hours searching online to find information to help them understand their behaviors and feelings. Yes, there are circumstances when a diagnosis is a complete surprise, but most mental health professionals are seeing a significant surge in self-educated clients.
Because your adult child trusts you enough to share their diagnosis, be open to learning more. Ask them if they can share some of their research with you. Do not be surprised if they offer social media sources, blog posts, and YouTube videos! Your child may have found legitimate experts using these sources.
Ask questions, listen, and be open to learning more about their experience. Receiving a mental health diagnosis can be very isolating; the more support your adult child has, the better the long-term outcome.
Accept what they share with you and take the time to investigate the information. It’s important to remember that they have taken a risk in sharing their personal information with you. Be worthy of their trust in you. Encourage them to discuss their diagnosis and any treatment they may receive, including their feelings and experiences with their mental health assessment.
It’s also important to remember that everyone’s experience with mental health is different, so be sure to remain open-minded and non-judgmental.
Reassure them of your love and acceptance.
All people want to be loved and accepted. We are designed to be in a community, first for our safety and then for our development. Respond with genuine love and warm acceptance when your grown kid realizes that they have a mental health diagnosis. Positive affirmation will help reduce the stigma around mental illness and create a space for open dialogue.
I get it; people can be challenging at times, even if those people were born and raised by us! There is a good chance that your (now adult) child has caused some confusion and frustration during their growing-up years. Some of their behavior might have been due to an undiagnosed mental illness. You might have felt helpless and angry with the behavior patterns and cycles that disrupted your home life.
Feeling frustrated and sometimes angry with your child’s behavior is okay. Feeling like someone you love is out of control is scary. Frankly, some families will struggle for a lifetime with the effects of mental health issues. Watching your grown child wrestle with depression, anxiety, and suicidal behaviors can cause a parent to despair.
If your family is caught in a cycle of frustration and hopelessness, make sure you reach out for help. Many nationwide groups offer hope, support, and resources for those affected by mental health issues. Try searching online for these nationwide groups:
- Anxiety and Depression of America (ADAA) – resources for anxiety and depression
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – education and support for families
- The Trevor Project (LGBTQ support for those under 25 years of age) – provides resources for eating disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide prevention
- Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) – works to remove barriers for Black people to access mental health support and resources
Do your research
Now that you know your child’s mental health diagnosis, take some time and research to educate yourself. Go beyond the resources your child shared with you, gathering information to help you go deeper on the topic. Taking action steps reinforces your commitment to be an educated and supportive parent.
Knowing the basics about your adult child’s mental health diagnosis can reassure both of you. Making sure that you have a simple understanding can be vital in the event of a crisis or adverse mental health event. By being knowledgeable, you’ll avoid making ignorant or insensitive comments.
Remember, mental illness is not something that can be “cured” but instead managed. Your adult child’s decisions to support their mental health might include meds, talk therapy, choosing to admit themselves for in-patient treatment, or other industry standards.
Stop! Don’t Do These Things:
Please don’t send them information that contradicts their diagnosis.
Your adult child has likely spent hours researching and trying to understand their mental health issues. Most likely, they have worked with a mental health professional or medical doctor to arrive at their diagnosis.
It doesn’t matter how you feel about the process; this is not the time to criticize or try to control your child’s acceptance of their diagnosis. This situation requires a sense of safety and trust; please do not look for information to contradict their diagnosis. As their parent, you must focus on supportive behavior, ensuring they feel your love and acceptance.
Don’t downplay the impact their diagnosis has on their life.
Please don’t tell your adult child that they need to “buck up,” “walk it off,” or “just don’t think about it” when talking about their mental health issues. Even the slightest bit of disrespect or diminishing the impact of their diagnosis makes you sound judgmental and cold. Please do your best to encourage your child to practice self-awareness and self-care to help manage their mental health.
Don’t tell them that Aunt Betty had “dark days, too,” and she was happy.
This type of response can be very hurtful. You are telling your child they are weaker than others because they got help for their diagnosis. Yes, you might be right, Aunt Betty might have had dark days that she survived, but that was her choice. Your child has chosen to get support for their mental health. Asking for help is always a brave choice and should be applauded.
As a culture, we are experiencing a positive shift around mental health and its impact on individuals, but many mental health diagnoses still have a sense of failure or shame attached to them. Our adult children should feel a sense of safety and support as they navigate their new health concerns.
Now You Know How to Talk About Mental Health
You can help your adult child by being a source of understanding, compassion, and listening when they need to talk. With the proper support, your child can learn to manage their mental health diagnosis while living a full and meaningful life.
As a parent of a grown child, the most important thing you can do is to offer support and help them on their journey to self-understanding. Take the time to understand your child’s needs and educate yourself about their diagnosis. Mental health issues can be isolating; family support is critical in living a balanced life.
Remember that it took courage and trust to share their struggles with you. Celebrate your well-connected relationship with your adult child; they feel safe sharing difficult things with you.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.