A Parent’s Journey Through Teenage Mental Illness & Mental Health Issues
As the parent of a child with mental health problems, perhaps the most difficult thing to understand is the journey you are now on.
Watching your child’s mental health decline and your coping strategies fail and not knowing what’s to come creates a sense of hopelessness that is difficult to manage.
We have created the PMH Curve as a way for parents to see where they are on the journey, where they have come from and what is likely to be ahead.
As soon as you understand the nature of the journey, you can prepare and use stage-appropriate tactics that are more likely to be effective in helping your child to avoid the worst, and to make a resilient recovery.
The Curve’s six stages have different symptoms and different strategies to cope with them. We’ll look in greater depth at each stage in future, but in this post we’ll introduce the elements and give you some simple ways to see where you are.
The first thing to check is your Child’s Mental Health Baseline. Sadly, this is not a definitive figure, or something like BMI, but it’s made up of the level of resilience that your child possesses and uses to cope with life, how they respond when pressures are taken away, and generally how happy they are.
These include an ability to maintain meaningful relationships, successfully process aggression or the negative behaviour of others, a sense of personal pride in their appearance and values, and a willingness to be productive, creative and independent. The baseline will be different for each child. It relies on your knowledge of the child, and is a measure that you can perceive.
Stage One – Slow Descent
Most of the time this stage goes unnoticed. It is often put down to ‘teenage tantrums’ or unreasonable behavior, and because it only slowly gets more serious, your child may be in this stage for years. Over this time your child will be building a set of beliefs about authority (yours and external), their place in the world, the meaning of life and their ability to effect change that will inform their ability to recover.
They may be being bullied or part of a toxic relationship or just naturally fall into this state. Their self-esteem will be slowly falling and their separation from friends and family may also accelerate.
Stage Two – Fast Slide
As the effects of Stage One build, you may find you are first aware of your child’s behaviour not being normal and signs of depression or anxiety will become more obvious and clear. The child may have begun to start to self-harm, refuse school, adversely change their eating habits, separate themselves from their peer group or appear to be very emotional. They may constantly question (your) authority at this point and seem to be ‘lost’ or ‘distant’. Over time, as this stage gets more acute, they may start making plans for significant self-harm or suicide.
Stage Three – Crisis
Obviously, this is the stage we want to avoid. The child’s decision making at this stage may make them seem un-communicative. They have come to some conclusions about their life, its meaning, their situation and the prospects of any change. They have decided that more radical behaviour is required for them to rid themselves of the suffering they are feeling. They may be consistently aggressive to themselves and / or authority figures and feel any and all activity is meaningless. They are at a point where they ‘need’ to escape the situation they are in. They may take drastic action – attempt suicide, run away or repeatedly / severely self-harm, or they may slip into a self-destructive torpor. They may not be sleeping, or sleeping excessively; they may be using food as a form of control; they may not be able to leave the house or engage with friends or family; they may give up washing and taking care of themselves.
Stage Four – Sawtooth Recovery
Coming out of Crisis is a very bumpy road. Good days may be followed by many more bad ones, but there are good days. As a few good days string together you, and your child, may believe the cure is here and good times are now certain. However, this can pressure your child at a time where they are taking tentative steps towards recovery. There definitely will be more bad days and usually many of them. Sliding back into crisis is a possibility. Every child’s recovery will be unique to them, however, it is necessary to recognise there will still be (many) bad days and to accept them. By expecting and accepting the bad days you can lessen their impact.
Stage Five – Resilient Recovery
The time and techniques that have brought you and your child out of Crisis can now start to strengthen your child. As there are more good days than bad and new behaviours and attitudes are making you and your child believe progress is being made, resilience planning can take place. This is the time when you can start to introduce psychological techniques and behavioural changes that your child can use to prevent themselves from sliding backwards. You can help them anticipate the stressors that may have caused or accelerated their decline in the first place and enable them to understand themselves better.
Stage Six – Strong Growth
The experience can now be owned and understood by you and your child. The behaviour, attitude and lifestyle changes that have brought them back to their Baseline Mental Health ( or an improved level in some cases) can now be used to improve mental health further. This journey can make you and your child mentally stronger, mentally happier and far more resilient. This is a stage that will last the rest of your child’s life where they can hopefully avoid repeated events of depression or anxiety, and actively create a happy, purposeful life.
Not every child suffering with depression or anxiety descends into crisis. As a parent you may have the opportunity to help your child ‘bridge’ a potential crisis. Bridging is avoiding the most destructive parts of the curve by changing your behaviour, your child’s environment and providing ways for your child to see a way out of their situation.
Recognising where your child is on the curve will enable you to employ an effective bridging strategy and lessen the impact of their depression / anxiety.
The PMH Curve and the concept of ‘Bridging’ is a way of helping parents see what is ahead and that there is hope.
There are many ways along the journey you can help your child lessen their suffering, reduce the damage to your family unit and all emerge stronger, happier people.
We would love to hear your views on the PMH Curve – if it helps, if it reflects your experience and how we can improve it.