Talking To Your Kids About Mental Illness: When Mental Illness Hits Home

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What happens when the person grappling with mental illness is someone within the walls of your own home? And what are some of the signs?

It’s one thing to help your kids understand the reality of mental illness, and to help them respond with empathy to individuals and families who may be experiencing it. But what happens when the person grappling with this issue might be someone within the walls of your own home?

First, it’s important to recognize the warning signs to look for if you, or a member of your own family, might be struggling with a mental illness. These include:                       

  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  • Seriously trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so
  • Severe out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real
  • Repeatedly using drugs or alcohol
  • Drastic changes in mood, behavior, personality or sleeping habits
  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities

A few years ago Focus on the Family partnered with LifeWay Research to study the impact of mental illness on families, especially those in churches. Among other findings, our research revealed:

  • Impacted individuals and their families deal with a significant amount of shame and social stigma.
  • Many assume the afflicted person has done something to cause the illness.
  • Many parents whose children suffer from mental illness deal with denial and grief.
  • In most cases, the illness needs stabilizing before spiritual growth will take place.
  • Strong faith does not make a mental illness go away.

When Christian families are confronted with mental illness, it’s especially important to understand that the issue is not often primarily spiritual in nature.

Of course, there are times when a person’s sinful behaviors or habits can influence their mental health. However, the majority of mental health challenges are related to physical causes, such as chemical imbalances in the brain and other factors beyond the person’s control. To blame or shame someone for demonstrating symptoms of compromised mental health will certainly cause further harm.

Instead, bear in mind that God has created each one of us as physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual beings. Prayer and spiritual disciplines are certainly important when confronting the challenges of mental illness. But it’s also imperative that you or your loved one consult with a qualified physician, psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor.

Every situation is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing mental illness. Nevertheless, if this is something that’s impacting your family, you need to know that you don’t have to face it alone. There is a wide range of resources available to help you navigate your reality.

As a start, you might consider getting in touch with Focus on the Family’s counseling service at 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). Our counseling team can offer you a complimentary, one-time consultation from a Christian perspective and provide referrals to Christian counselors in your area who can offer more extensive care. (Please be prepared to leave your contact information for a counselor or chaplain to return a call to you as soon as possible.)

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