Once your child receives a mental health diagnosis, there can be a flood of emotions. Relief. Anger. Denial. Worry. Know that there is hope.
As you begin this process with your child, here are five things you can do:
1. Get More Information
Find out more about how your child’s diagnosis may change their daily behavior and interactions. You’ll want to find out from your child’s care team about the symptoms commonly associated with their diagnosis. You may want to ask things like:
- Are the symptoms different in children compared to adults?
- How might those symptoms change over time?
- What kinds of things could intensify symptoms and how can you help?
You can find out more information from evidence-informed, reputable websites. Ask yourself:
- Who is the author? Are they a mental health professional? Credentials should be available after their name such as LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor), PhD, PsyD or MD.
- What kind of website is it? If it’s a .org, .gov or .edu, it’s likely from a non-profit organization, government office or educational institution. Sites that end in .com are usually for-profit companies that may be selling something. They may still have valuable mental health information, but you’ll want to be mindful of what product or service they are promoting.
- It’s helpful to read more than one website so you can confirm the information you’re seeing from several different sources. You’ll also want to talk with your child’s mental health therapist about what you’re learning.
- Look for sites that take a positive approach to the diagnosis, with content that leaves you feeling hopeful, not scared.
Once you understand more about their diagnosis, you can help your child understand it better too. A number of sites may have developmentally appropriate resources to share with your child. If you’re unsure about how much or how little to explain to your child, talk it over with their care team.
2. Create a Support System for Your Family
Some days it can feel hard to be connected to family and friends. But it is important to maintain a group of people who can support you [MD1]and your family in challenging times.
Connect with other families who may have received a similar diagnosis. Look up support groups in your area, as many communities offer both parent, sibling and child support groups. and child support groups.
3. Discuss Treatment Options
As you talk with the care team about their recommendations, you may have more questions, such as:
- How will I know if my child is responding to treatment?
- How will you know if treatment should be changed?
- How will family members be included with treatment?
- Will you keep my child’s pediatrician informed?
- How should I involve my child’s school?
Make sure the mental health provider you select is the right fit for your family. If you are a BIPOC or LGBTQ+ family, you may want a culturally informed mental health therapist. If you’re not sure what providers or treatments are covered, you may want to contact your insurance company.
Communicate openly with your child’s mental health provider. Continue conversations with your primary care doctor about the treatment your child is receiving. You may also want to consider how you can partner with your child’s school.
4. Take Care of Yourself
These situations can be very stressful for families. Make sure you are taking good care of yourself. Whenever possible, find time for things that give you energy and joy. This is an opportunity to model that self-care is each person’s responsibility. You will be most helpful to your child when you are at your best.
5. Continue Advocating
You’ll need to be the voice for your child when they’re having trouble being heard. This may be with their care team, at their school or with friends. You can help your child learn to:
- Ask questions when they’re unsure about something
- Speak up if their needs aren’t being met
Find more information on becoming an advocate.
You now have a diagnosis, and that may feel overwhelming. As you move through these steps, allow yourself and your family time to process and adjust.