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How to Talk to Your Adult Child About Their Mental Health

If you have an adult child struggling with their mental health, you understand the firsthand struggles of excess worry and uncertainty. You might also identify with the difficulties of setting healthy boundaries or providing the proper support.

As a parent, you undoubtedly want what's best for your child. But how do you know what the best really is? What happens if they don't want your guidance or advice? Better yet, what steps should you take if you sense they're regressing or relapsing? Let's get into what you need to know.

Be Mindful of Any Judgments or Biases

Mental illness can be frustrating, and it's normal to feel angry with yourself or the entire world when your child is struggling. However, it's essential to try to remain compassionate and nonjudgmental when your child reaches out to you.

Mental illness tends to go hand-in-hand with shame and fear. People often feel like others don't understand them. They worry they are alone in their struggles, and this loneliness can trigger impulsivity, withdrawal, and poor decisions.

That's why it's important to educate yourself about your child's condition. Take the time to read up on other people's stories. Learn about what you should expect moving forward.

At the same time, you should consider getting your own therapy. Having a safe place to share your unfiltered emotions- without taking them out on your child- can help everyone with their healing processes.

Recognize What You Can't Control

The power struggles can be so exhausting. Many parents try to help their adult children by doing tasks for them, correcting their behavior, or apologizing on their behalf.

Of course, these decisions come from good intentions. Nobody wants to see their child in pain, and you certainly don't want your child to feel like they have failed.

That said, your adult child has personal accountability over their decisions. They have agency and control over how they live their life. You may disagree with their choices, but that doesn't change the reality of their inherent independence.

When you let go of what you can't control, you open yourself to a greater path of acceptance. On this path, you can discern what is and isn't your responsibility. This isn't an easy path, but it can offer more peace and comfort for everyone in your family.

Share Your Concerns Clearly

When talking to your child about their mental health, it's important to be clear, concise, and matter-of-fact. This isn't the time for long-winded anecdotes or personal stories. Excess details can derail the point of your conversation.

You might want to prepare ahead of time by writing your concerns down. Indicate any specific situations that worried or angered you. Try to stick with the facts as much as possible.

Remember that your child might get upset or defensive. They might downplay or lie about their behavior.

Even if these reactions frustrate you, try to remain as consistent and neutral as possible. This presentation shows that their volatility does not sway you.

Knowing your boundaries is key. Let your child what is and isn't acceptable for you. Make sure you give them time to respond accordingly- they might have their own boundaries they need to express.

Understand You Aren't the Doctor, Therapist, or Psychiatrist

You probably know your child better than almost anyone. At times, you may believe you know them better than they know themselves!

That said, you cannot treat their mental health. Your child is not your patient. You are too emotionally involved to maintain professional objectivity. Likewise, you don't have the credentials and experience needed to provide comprehensive treatment.

If your child is meeting with professionals, respect their autonomy. Be as involved in their process as they want you to be. Don't try to overstep your role- this will likely frustrate your child and result in them withdrawing or lashing out at you.

Ask How You Can Support Them

What does your child need from you? What role are they hoping that you can fulfill right now?

If you aren't sure, ask! You might be surprised by their response. Of course, this doesn't mean you are obligated to give them everything they want. But having some guidance can help you discern what you can do moving forward.

Sometimes, people don't know what they need. That's okay, too. You can let your child know that you are there for them to help them feel safe and loved. Let them know you will not give up on them and that you are happy to work together to find successful treatment options.

Final Thoughts

Supporting an adult child with a mental health condition isn't easy. Be kind and patient with yourself. This road can be bumpy, but healing is possible.

At The Mental Health House, we support individuals and their loved ones on their journeys towards wellness. We are here for you. Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic, wraparound approach.

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