Parenting a Teenager With Mental Illness

Though we have made progress in reducing the stigma associated with mental health disorders such as depression, it can still come as a shock to learn your teen son is struggling with his mental health. Despite the prevalence of mental illness among teens and the fact that mental illness often has a genetic component, it’s easy to convince yourself that this problem is something that only affects other families.

Still, with the appropriate treatment strategies and your support, it’s possible for your son to learn to manage his symptoms and live a fulfilling life. Here are some helpful tips for parenting a teenager with mental illness.

1. Recognize the Warning Signs of Mental Illness

How do you distinguish a mood disorder like depression from the typical mood swings that characterize adolescence? First, you should know that health professionals gauge specific factors to determine if a person has a mental illness, including:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies, friends or sports
  • Poor academic performance
  • Sleeping or eating too much or too little
  • Unusual irritability or frequent angry outbursts
  • Trouble concentrating or completing tasks; low energy and motivation
  • Suicidal thoughts

If your son is experiencing most or all these symptoms nearly every day, for at least two weeks, he might meet the criteria for a mental health disorder. However, if your teen has occasional episodes of anger or breaks curfew sometimes, it’s probably no cause for alarm.

2. Be Patient and Reach out for Support

Remember, everyone is different, so you shouldn’t try to compare your son to other teens his age. Children with mental illnesses may respond better to an unconventional parenting style, and you might need to go through some trial and error before finding solutions that work for your family. Ask your son’s therapist for suggestions, or reach out to other people who are also parenting teens with mental illness.

3. Understand Your Teen’s Diagnosis

Your son’s mental illness symptoms may vary, depending on which condition he’s living with. For example, major hallmarks of social anxiety disorder include an extreme fear of being judged by others and discomfort being around other people. Meanwhile, depression causes persistent feelings of worthlessness, emptiness or hopelessness.

It’s crucial to educate yourself about your son’s mental health disorder, especially if you’ve never struggled with mental health challenges yourself. First, a thorough understanding of your teen’s diagnosis will help you empathize more with his experiences. It will also help you be an advocate for him when talking to teachers, coaches and other mentors about the unique challenges your son is facing compared to his more neurotypical peers.

4. Know Where to Seek Treatment

Every parent wants their child to grow up healthy, happy and self-confident, but you might feel discouraged if your son has recently received a diagnosis of a mental health disorder. However, the good news is that many mental illnesses respond well to a combination of therapy and medication, alongside healthy self-care strategies like exercise, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a regular sleep schedule.

As much as you might wish your teen’s mental illness will go away on its own, that’s an unrealistic expectation. If left untreated, mental health disorders can get worse and can also involve other issues such as substance abuse. In those cases, accredited adolescent recovery is the best way to get your son’s life back on track. ARCH Academy provides an academically focused environment for young men ages 14 to 18 living with co-occurring disorders involving substance misuse. Reach out to us today to learn more about what we offer.

parenting a teenager with mental illness