Tag Archives: mental illness

NEW BOOK: “Parenting Through the Storm – Finding Help, Hope and Strength When Your Child Has Psychological Problems”

 

No, I did not write this NEW book – but I wish I had.

Or, to be precise, I wish it had been written when we first needed it – say, about a decade or so ago.

But, I am VERY happy to let you know that this book is now available in the U.S. and I had a small (very small) role in making that happen.

Parenting Through the Storm” is written by Canadian author, Ann Douglas – an “award-winning parenting writer and the mother of four children who have struggled with a variety of psychological problems – and are currently thriving.”

(Lucky her, I say to myself – re-reading the last clause).

Lucky me too because Ann Douglas contacted me last year to ask if I would assist her in customizing the original Canadian version of her book for American readers.

Big issue there, as you can probably guess, is that Canada has a rather (understatement) different health care system than we have here in the United States. While much of Ann’s amazing guide focuses on parenting  – and is written for parents wherever YOU live – to help deal with and find support for the stress that comes with raising a child, teen or young adult with mental health struggles, many of the topics covered by the book – for example, topics such as:

 

  • Obtaining a Diagnosis
  • Starting Treatment
  • Advocating for Your Child
  • Working with Your Child’s School (& College)

 

.. the information and advice for these subjects needed to be modified to reflect the (IMHO, sad) realities of how mental health care works (and doesn’t) within the U.S as well as the way we do things in our educational and legal systems.

Working with Ann to customize her Canadian-audience book for American readers was a wonderful experience. Can you tell how proud I am just to be mentioned in the Acknowledgements and to be quoted on young adult and college-related mental health on a few of its’ pages?

NOTE: This blog post is NOT meant to promote Ann’s book in any commercial manner. I’ve not been asked to plug it nor do I get any financial benefit if you purchase it. I just admire the heck out of it and am thrilled it is now available here.

What makes it special? It is a nuts-and-bolts guide but also a how-to-help-yourself-guide. Ann addresses not only the specific “What do I do now?” questions –  but also gives solid advice on how to take care of yourself at the same time. And if you don’t practice self-care as a parent of a challenging child, believe me it won’t go well for you or for anyone in the family.

You may not need this book – but my well-educated guess is that you know a parent (or a grandparent!) who does. Or will some day. One in five children and teens are affected by mental health struggles. These kids hurt – and so do their parents.

Please share the news of its’ U.S. publication widely – and if you are the one “parenting through the storm”, as Ann says, you are not alone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, College, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Moms, Parenting, Reading, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

Reflections on the Horrific: Thinking of the Parents

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 A quote of which I am quite fond tells us that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

(Thank you, Soren Kierkegaard for this bit of philosophical wisdom.)

Perhaps that was the thinking behind Facebook’s latest gimmick – to offer up “Memories” of posts you have shared from years prior. Mostly you laugh at your old photos or think about how young you once looked (sigh.) But sometimes you think, wow, I was pretty profound.

Last week a “Memory” popped up on FB of a post I wrote four summers ago.

I was deeply upset by the July 20, 2012  mass shooting in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by a young man named James Holmes. My understanding (looking backwards for understanding as Kierkegaard suggests) is that he acted without cognitive understanding while in a psychotic state due to his untreated severe mental illness.

Here is what I wrote on July 22, 2012:

“The silence of the parents of James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, touches my heart. How stunned, how shocked they must be. Even if they knew that their son’s mind was slipping into delusions and derangement, probably they could not help him or convince others to do so. They join the parents of the young man known as the mass shooter at Virginia Tech as members of a club they never thought they would belong to. They are grieving, too.”

Four years later, and my sympathy is also with parents of adults who take incomprehensible actions.

So many mass shootings have taken place in recent months – with different underlying causes.

  • Some shootings caused by terrorists who did not, as best as I know, have any kind of mental illness, but sought to kill civilians for their own misguided political purposes.
  • Some shootings caused by criminals who did not, as best as I know, act under the influence of mental illness, but instead were propelled by some toxic combination of their overwhelming hatred of others, racism and/or anger.
  • Only a very few of mass shootings are caused by people, often – and sadly – young men – like James Holmes in the summer of 2012, with long untreated extremely severe mental illness whose emotions and thoughts are so impaired by the illness that they have lost all contact with external reality.

(For the record,  people with severe mental illness, especially when it is untreated, are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime, than to be the perpetrators of it.)

Through the media we read tributes to the victims, those who died and learn about their relatives who are left behind.

Rarely, though, do we read about the families of the shooters. Who are grieving too.

They, too, will have an empty chair at the next holiday table. All future family gatherings will be missing the one relative who has become famous for his notoriety, not for his good deeds. I always remember that he was someone’s son, too.  He was once well-loved. He had baby photos taken and admiring grandparents as he toddled around the house.

Then he grew up – and whatever the reason, ended up being one of those young men that we read about only when he does something tragic and terrible.

Try, if you can, when you hear about the latest mass shooting – and no doubt there will be more of them – to consider the parents of those who end up in the news for horrific reasons.

Can these parents ever, looking through a backwards lens, come to understand how their son changed from an adorable child to a very troubled adult?

Soren Kierkegaard had it right –  but perhaps only up to a point. We live forward, yes, but we can not always understand life looking backwards. Sometimes life is just too inexplicable to understand the reasons why our children take the actions they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You wear my shoes, I’ll wear yours: Changing Perspectives, Parenting and Mental Health

Four pairs of various running shoes laid on a wooden floor background

What does it mean to “walk in another person’s shoes”?

One of my favorite children’s books was “The Really Real Family” by Helen Grigsby Doss.

Set in Hawaii, it’s the story of two young girls, orphans of multi-cultural background, living with a foster-mother while they waited to be adopted by a “really real family.”

After the girls quarreled, their foster mom suggested they could best understand the other girl’s true feelings if they actually walked in each other’s shoes. So they switched shoes, walked in them for a while, and came to see the other child’s point of view. And thus the quarrel was patched up.

Not sure why this book has resonated with me for so long  – was it because as a kid growing up in Connecticut, Hawaii seemed like a far-off foreign land where people ate odd things like “poi?” Or because I was intrigued by kids who lacked a family?  Or fascinated by the idea of actually switching shoes to find out how another person really thinks?

Last week I had a chance to understand what it means to see things from inside another person’s mind, if not their shoes.

On Thursday and Friday I was invited to participate as one of 14  mental health “experts” in a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) advisory group on “Engagement.” Our group was composed of doctors, psychologists, social workers, advocates, family members – with diverse mental health perspectives from around the U.S.

And what, you may ask, is the concept of “Engagement” and why does it matter? Let me explain in non-jargonese.

One of the hats I wear (Except I don’t wear actual hats. Ever. I look terrible in hats.) but figuratively one of the hats I wear is as an advisor/advocate/writer on young adult and college-related mental health.

In mental health lingo, “Engagement” traditionally has meant methods of reaching out to people who have mental illness, at whatever stage of their experience, so they will enter into treatment and hopefully, comply with it.

Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? And in many small discussion forums, the participants accept, without question, the written agenda set by the sponsoring organization.

But (thankfully) not this group!

Right from the start, even as our group’s facilitator was hand-writing the standard definition of “Engagement” up on the flip chart in the front of the conference room – hands shot up in the air to challenge it.

The conventional definition doesn’t work, most participants contended. We need to start thinking of “Engagement” not just as a one-way-street (doctor engages patient), but as an active, two-way process where the person receiving the treatment has an opportunity to express his goals, then a plan for reaching those goals is mutually designed and both the provider and the patient work together to get there.

I started to listen more closely – fascinated as the older model of “Engagement” was tossed aside and a new one evolved from lived experience.

As the Mom of a teen and then young adult with mental health challenges, I had always subscribed, without giving it much thought, frankly, to the conventional  “Engagement” model of health care  – the provider as the knowledgeable giver of a remedy and the person with the illness as the quietly docile recipient.

Does this sound familiar to you?  Person develops symptoms, sees a doctor and the doctor says ” You are ill, you are broken. I can fix you! Here take this pill and come back in one week.”

As a parent my perspective was always a narrow one:   “Did you take your medicine? Did you go to therapy? Are you doing what the doctor says you should do?”

I rarely, if ever, thought about how mental health care must feel from the perspective of my child.

How my child must have felt about the experience of being on the receiving end of a scary sounding diagnosis, of being thought of as a broken object to be fixed  – so focused was I on wanting my child to get better – and as soon as possible, please.

What I should have done, I’ve realized, is somewhere along the way –  figuratively or literally – was to switch shoes (sneakers in this case) with my child so I could walk in another person’s shoes to see how it felt to be him.

During last week’s meeting two participants in our group made this concept come vividly alive for me.

Two amazing young adult women, both in the early years of their professional careers, both living with mental illness. They spoke eloquently about what it was like to leave college, how it felt to be hospitalized, to feel socially rejected by some peers, to experience discrimination in educational and professional settings and to deal with a mental health system that was all about “fixing them” – and not about understanding them.

You will no doubt be glad to know that during last week’s meeting I did not actually take off my own shoes and try to exchange them with any other participant.

But just listening to the other participants gave me an “ahah” moment. For real understanding to happen I needed to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. The other person who has actually lived the experience, beyond having my opinions shaped from where I sit as the knowledgeable-yet-worried parent figure.

Likely this concept translates to the parenting of children with all sorts of challenges, big and small. And to other kinds of broken systems, not just the mental health care system.

For we won’t know what needs be changed – and how to make those changes – until we really listen to the people on the receiving end – or we get a chance to walk in their shoes, literally or figuratively.

 

 

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