When a Child Has Mental Illness

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Three of our four children deal with mental illness. We face it day by day, but we have no answers. No guarantees. Nothing to assure us that everything will turn out OK.

I can still picture the 13-year-old boy with a round tummy and too-small blue shirt, singing loudly along with me.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders / Let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me …

I bellowed out the song – off-key, I’m sure – mercifully accompanied by the music emanating from my phone.

You call me out upon the waters / the great unknown where feet may fail / And there I find in You the mystery / in oceans deep, my faith will stand

A dozen teenagers sang along, gathered in the conference room of a psychiatric residential facility.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters / Your sovereign hand will be my guide

This place was one step shy of juvie for some of these kids. The boy wearing the blue shirt, for example, was at the facility because he wasn’t safe to live in a family setting.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander / And my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior

The group gathered around me included kids struggling with self-harm, suicidality, violence, sexual acting out and countless other symptoms of trauma and mental illness. Together we clung to the words.

Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me / You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

I was there to visit my daughter. She lives there. My beautiful teenager, who will always be my baby girl to me, has genetic and debilitating mental illness.

So I will call upon Your name / And keep my eyes above the waves / When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace / for I am Yours and You are mine

A Holy Moment

It was one of the most sacred and holy moments of my life, and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. My daughter and I had been hanging around, just visiting with the staff and other residents in the hallway, and now we were in this conference room, enjoying an impromptu worship service.

Other teens heard the singing and ran in to join along. Along with “Oceans,” we sang “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art.” And instead of being mortified that her mom was singing church songs with her peers, my girl stood right next to me and sang along.

My daughter has lived in this residential facility for the last six months because she’s unsafe to live at home. There are staff members here who really love my daughter, and I can never explain what a gift it is to have people who genuinely care about and care for your child when they are too ill to live at home. I speak to them almost every night when I call to talk with my girl.

When we were done singing, I reminded the kids to be very respectful of the staff, so as not to give our worship service a bad name. And they were.

Afterward, things returned to our version of normal for my daughter and her mental health challenges. She lives many miles from home because in my state there are too many kids with mental health needs and not enough services to meet them. So we call her every night. We visit every month. We pray for her progress. We tell her we love her. We tell her we’ll never leave her or give up on her. We try to demonstrate that there’s nothing she can do to hinder our love. We set healthy boundaries and pray that she will, too.

Our hearts continue to break that progress comes slowly after so many years trying to manage her mental health issues at home. We continue to rely on professionals to help bring her to stability from a medical and psychological perspective. And we continue to call on the One who is her Savior to heal her and use her pain – and ours – to help others.

But we have no answers. No guarantees. Nothing to assure us that this will all turn out OK.

Visiting Hour

Oh God, please help me, I groaned inwardly, drowning in fear. We’d just finished a visit with our 17-year-old son, currently living in an acute psychiatric facility after he experienced a complete and very dangerous psychotic break at home.

He heard voices and saw people telling him to kill himself. He held a knife to his throat. His psychiatrist says it’s a dump of dopamine in his limbic system, but whatever it is, it almost took his life … again.

This dear son, the oldest of our four children, was – like his siblings – also adopted from foster care. Like three of our four children, he also has mental illness; genetically based schizophrenia in his case. He has recurring visions of animals and people who aren’t real. But those figments aren’t a big deal (never thought I would say that) – they’re actually quite benign, even comforting, to this son of ours who is as kind and generous as the day is long.

It’s when the dangerous commanding audio and visual hallucinations appear that he is tormented … and a danger to himself. So after years in psychiatric hospitals and residential facilities, after multiple psychiatrists and therapists and treatments, we are back here again.

Long-term stability seems out of reach at this point, and my poor baby boy (who is now a 220-pound man) can’t take it anymore. So after an hour of encouragement and prayer and hugs and tears and “hang on, we aren’t giving up,” visiting hour is over and we get up to form our lines to leave.

I hug him hard and tight, look deep in his eyes as I try to give him hope. He’s so weary from years of this. We’re all so weary.

“Mom, I love you so much and I’m so sorry,” he tells me, “but I’m going to kill myself tonight.”

Panic grips my chest.

He’s almost killed himself before while in a psychotic and dissociative state, but God has always mercifully spared him. Staff arriving just in time, checking him earlier than scheduled, saving his life – more times than I can count. I look into his eyes, the eyes I’ve loved since I held him close as a drug-addicted baby, and I can tell that he’s what I call suicide-determined.

I panic some more. I need to warn the staff. They have to watch him closely. I’ve never seen him quite like this. He can’t take any more anguish, any more mental torture – of course he can’t. I couldn’t either in that moment.

I’m calm and loving on the outside, holding him close. But on the inside I’m hysterical. Panic-stricken. And that’s when I’m reminded, very clearly, that God’s even bigger and stronger than my son’s momentary determination to end his own suffering. God gives me a lightness of spirit even in that darkest of places.

Living in Today

As I shuffled out of the psychiatric hospital that night, as I’ve done hundreds of time over the last few years, I made sure to check and double-check with the staff as I always do, and then get back to the business of my own survival with my merciful and faithful Jesus.

I live only in today, not focusing on the still-unknown futures of my children with mental illness who will become adults with mental illness.

I ask God to help me develop “ruthless trust” as author Brennan Manning coined it – trust in His goodness, His sufficiency, His love for me and my children.

I ask Him to help me resist my impulse to escape all this suffering through unhealthy coping.

Most of all, I ask Him to use all this pain and brokenness to help others who suffer from the horror of mental illness – to help those who suffer and the families who suffer with them to know they are not alone. You, Lord, are with them. And may Your church be with them, too.

And I hum the words of a familiar song:

You’ve never failed and You won’t start now …  

_____

Kelly Rosati is vice president of Advocacy for Children at Focus on the Family.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the impact of mental illness on family relationships, Focus on the Family has a staff of licensed professional counselors available who would welcome the opportunity to speak with you. Simply call 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays between 6 a.m. and p.m. (Mountain Time) and a Family Help Center staff member will set up a free phone consult.

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Tactics front cover

Tactics, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions

In a world increasingly indifferent to Christian truth, followers of Christ need to be equipped to communicate with those who do not speak their language or accept their source of authority. In Tactics, 10th Anniversary Edition, Gregory Koukl demonstrates how to artfully regain control of conversations, keeping them moving forward in constructive ways through thoughtful diplomacy. You’ll learn how to stop challengers in their tracks and how to turn the tables on questions or provocative statements. Most important, you’ll learn how to get people thinking about Jesus.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 1

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Giving up Sugar, Tasting God's Goodness

As a latchkey kid, Wendy Speake turned to sugar for comfort. Every Friday, she would pedal to the candy show and use her allowance to fill her bag with candy. And one day, when she was older and a mom of three young boys, she came to realize that she was still “pedaling” away from her stress and using sugar as comfort, instead of turning to Jesus. She was joyless, worn out, tired, and in need of a change. In this interview, Wendy will challenge Christians to take 40 days to focus on fasting from something they turn to instead of Jesus for comfort. She invited people to break free from a dependence on sugar and taste the goodness of God.

Author Wendy Speake smiling as she holds up her book "The 40-Day Social Media Fast"

Mrs. Wendy Speake

With a background in Hollywood as a trained actress, Wendy Speake ministers to women as a bible teacher by applying the power of drama, poetry and comedy to the study of Scripture and real-life application of biblical truths. She has co-authored two books with Amber Lia titled Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and their latest, Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, Say Something New. Wendy is also the co-author (with Kelli Stuart) of Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom.

Cover image of the book "The 40-Day Sugar Fast"

The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation

Welcome to the 40-Day Sugar Fast, a fast that begins with us giving Jesus our sugar and ends with Jesus giving us himself–the only thing that can ever truly satisfy our soul’s deep hunger. On this 40-day journey you’ll learn how to stop fixating on food and other things you use to fill the voids in life and instead fix your eyes on Christ. Anyone who runs to sugar for comfort or a reward, who eats mindlessly or out of boredom, who feels physically and spiritually lethargic, or who struggles with self-control will discover here not only freedom from their cravings but an entirely new appetite for the good things God has for us.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 2

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Loving Your Spouse Through the Seasons of Marriage - Part 2

Debra Fileta has identified the four seasons of marriage that correspond with our natural seasons – spring (new life and new love), summer (things get hot!), fall (showing our true colors), and winter (long days ahead). In this interview, she will help couples better understand the four seasons of healthy relationships, what to expect during each one, and how to carefully navigate them for a stronger marriage.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage.

Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of a Healthy Relationship

Every relationship goes through four life-changing seasons: Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays an important role in taking your relationship to the next level. And depending on how you navigate each season, your relationship will either flourish and grow, or it will slowly die. Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married, join licensed professional counselor and relationship expert, Debra Fileta as she takes you on an eye-opening psychological and spiritual journey through the four seasons that she has observed in every healthy relationship.

Reconciling Faith and Science in a Medical Crisis

Dr. Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon who has faced many heavy challenges in his life – from serving in the Iraq War to removing deadly brain tumors to experiencing the loss of a teenage son. He’ll share about his difficult quest to find answers to some of life’s toughest questions, while holding onto his faith in God and the sure hope of heaven

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Dr. W. Lee Warren

Dr. Lee Warren

W. Lee Warren, M.D., is a brain surgeon , inventor, Iraq War veteran, and author of I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, winner of the Christian Book Award®. His previous book, No Place to Hide, was included on the 2015 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Recommended Reading List. Dr. Warren has appeared on The 700 Club and the CBS Evening News, and his writings have been featured in Guideposts magazine. His Dr. Lee Warren Podcast, which is heard in more than 60 countries, helps listeners use the power of neuroscience, faith, and common sense to change their lives.

Cover image of Dr. Lee Warren's book "I've Seen the End of You"

I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know

This gripping inspirational memoir grapples with the tension between faith and science—and between death and hope—as a seasoned neurosurgeon faces insurmountable odds and grief both in the office and at home.

Praying Scripture Over Your Child’s Life - Part 1

Jodie Berndt loves to pray for her children. She’s been doing that for the past thirty years. Now she helps other parents to talk to God, asking for the salvation of their kids, and for wisdom, self-discipline, purpose, a future and much more. She offers fun and practical encouragement that moms and dads can put to work immediately in their daily lives as they prepare their children for a life in Christ.

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt is a public speaker, a Bible teacher, and the the author of 10 books. Find out more about Jodie and get some free resources (including printable prayer cards and calendars) at her website, jodieberndt.com.

Cover image of Jodie Berndt's book "Praying the Scriptures for Your Children"

Praying the Scriptures Over Your Children

You will discover how using the Bible to shape your desires and requests opens the door to God’s provision—and frees us from things like worry and fear in our parenting! This expanded edition of the bestseller features updated content on issues like technology and identity, and comes with new material designed to invite children into the family prayer circle. Purchase now and receive 10% off your product.

Mothers and Sons: Being a Godly Influence - Part 1

Rhonda Stoppe describes her early motherhood challenges of raising a son, which was intimidating to her. She found help through group of older women mentors. She urges moms to see their role as ministry in shaping sons to be good and godly men. Rhonda outlines several practical suggestions to moms about spiritual training, how to communicate with boys, and supporting the father-son relationship as a wife.

Headshot of Rhonda Stoppe

Rhonda Stoppe

Drawing upon 35 years of experience as a mentor, pastor’s wife, and homeschool mom, Rhonda Stoppe offers encouragement and guidance to women as an author and public speaker. She is popularly known as the “No Regrets Woman,” as she is especially passionate about helping women live life without regrets. Rhonda’s books include Moms Raising Sons to Be MenReal Life Romance, and The Marriage Mentor, which she co-authored with her husband, Steve.

Cover image of Rhonda Stoppe's book "Moms Raising Sons to be Men"

Moms Raising Sons to Be Men

Mothers of boys have the special calling to shape future men of God. Popular speaker Rhonda Stoppe, mom to two sons, knows this opportunity is a challenge, a joy, and probably the most important work of a woman’s life. Drawing from years of experience, this inspirational resource will revive the faithfulness and fortitude a woman needs to partner with God as they shape the character and heart of a future godly man.

Identifying Triggers in Your Marriage Part 1

They were both convinced they had married the wrong person. From almost the very beginning of their marriage, Amber and Guy Lia experienced various tensions and personality clashes related to house cleaning, backseat driving, workaholism, and intimacy. In this two-day Focus on the Family broadcast, Amber and Guy discuss how they bravely faced the triggers head-on, and committed to working on their own relationships with Jesus. As you listen to the Lia’s story, you’ll feel hope that you, too, can see real marriage transformation!

Headshot of Guy and Amber Lia

Mr. and Mrs. Guy and Amber Lia and Mrs. Jean Daly

Amber Lia is a work-at-home mom, blogger, public speaker, and co-author of two best-selling books. Her husband, Guy, is a former TV, feature film, and VFX development and production executive who has worked on popular TV shows and films. Guy and Amber own Storehouse Media Group, a faith- and family-friendly TV and film production company based in Los Angeles,

Cover image of the book "Marriage Triggers" by Guy and Amber Lia

Marriage Triggers: How You and Your Spouse Can Exchange Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses

A husband-wife team offers practical advice for married couples to end the cycle of reactionary arguments by examining the most common issues that trigger disagreements and apply God’s Word to radically transform relationships.

What to Do When You're Not Okay - Part 1

Life can be pretty stressful. Between work, relationships, and other obligations, the pressure builds, and we lose sight of who we are. Counselor Debra Fileta helps you better understand your emotions, assess your mental, physical, and spiritual health, and intentionally pursue a path to wellbeing. In dealing with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, Debra understands the importance of self-examination as well as the benefits of seeking professional help. She offers biblically-based advice, tools, and encouragement to help you get on a path toward healing and wholeness.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Mrs. Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage. Debra resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, John, and their four children.

Are You Really Okay?

Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are

In Are You Really OK? author and licensed counselor Debra Fileta challenges you to get real with who you are and how you’re doing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically so you can recognize where you need growth and healing.

Navigating a Toxic Culture with Your Daughter - Part 1

As a pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker has seen thousands of girls come through her office through the years. They struggle with eating issues, sexual identity, social media…and many other challenges in this toxic culture. Dr. Meeker will encourage parents to invest love and time in their daughters and develop their character to give them the best opportunity for a bright future, all rooted in a spiritual foundation. The discussion also includes healthy feminism vs. toxic feminism

Mrs. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong DaughtersStrong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers

Cover image of Dr. Meg Meeker's book "Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture"

Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture: 11 Steps to Keep Her Happy, Healthy, and Safe

Meg Meeker has been a pediatrician for more than thirty years, is a mother and a grandmother, and has seen it all. She knows what makes for strong, happy, healthy young women–and what puts our daughters at risk. Combining that experience with her famous common sense, she explains the eleven steps that will help your daughter–whether she’s a toddler or a troubled teen–to achieve her full human potential.

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Newest Release - Episode 1: The Truth About Life!

In this episode, we will tackle tough questions like, “When does life begin?” and “What does the Bible
say about Life?” You’ll discover and understand the stages of pre-born life and that babies are more than
just a clump of cells!

Yes, I Promise to Pray for the Pre-born and Their Moms!

Will you pray for the pre-born and moms that are facing unexpected pregnancies? We will send you a 7-day prayer guide that will help guide you along this journey with us!! You can even choose to receive this great resource by text!