Prevention & Self-Care

  • How to Help My Suicidal Child or Youth

    National Center for the Prevention of Youth Suicide provides step-by-step guidance to help your child or youth. You may be concerned about your son or daughter, a student or another youth. It is important that you recognize the warning signs and risk factors of suicide and know what to do, but first there are things you may want to know.

    How could anyone want to die? Many people are unable to see alternatives to their problems or an end to their pain. Many who consider dying by suicide still want to live: the youth you are concerned about may have mixed feelings about turning thoughts of suicide into a suicidal act. By recognizing his or her risk and getting him or her to help, a life can be saved.

    Go ahead and ask. A youth may hint or joke about suicide, but it is important to take all communications about suicide seriously. It is safe to ask directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Talking about suicide does not cause suicide. If you have difficulty asking the youth about his or her thoughts, enlist another adult to help you. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) and the trained counselors there will help.

    Really Listen. Show your interest and support without judgement. Don’t interrupt, and don’t give advice. Express concern and tell the youth that together you will find help.

    Stay with the youth. Don’t leave a suicidal youth alone. Go with him or her to a mental health professional, hospital emergency room, or his or her primary care physician.

    Move lethal means out of harm’s way. If there are firearms, drugs, or other means of suicide in the home, remove them until the crisis has passed. Make anything inaccessible that might be used by the youth in an impulsive moment.

  • What to Do If You Notice Symptoms

    Having a child with a mental health condition can be a challenge, but there are ways to help make things easier. Begin by taking notice of your children’s moods, behaviors and emotions. Early intervention, especially with signs of psychosis, is critical because mental health conditions often get worse without treatment.

    Many conditions are cyclical and periods of strong symptoms may come and go. Symptoms aren’t visible all the time. Children may also hide certain symptoms by saying and doing what they believe is expected of them.

    If you think you notice symptoms, schedule an appointment with a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist as soon as you can, or if that is not possible, then with your pediatrician or primary care physician. Make sure that you provide your healthcare professional with as much detailed information as you can:

    • Past mental health evaluations and other medical records
    • Descriptions of symptoms, when they began, and whether they have changed over time
    • Any medications or other medical treatments that your child is receiving
    • Anything else that is requested or that you think might be valuable information

    If a doctor, psychologist or counselor does not provide a diagnosis or referral to another professional, you should ask why and consider their reasoning. If you disagree, trust your instincts and seek a second opinion. It is often better to be cautious than to ignore a potentially serious problem.

    If your child reports seeing or hearing things that are not there, without the influence of drugs or alcohol, then you should seek medical treatment immediately. This may be an episode of psychosis. Such episodes might also include: spontaneous violent behavior, denial of reality, nonsensical and paranoid claims, removal of clothing, reckless and dangerous behavior, or claims of invincibility and other special powers.

    Even though there are a variety of treatment options available, it can be difficult to locate and secure the proper treatment. You can find directories of mental health professionals and treatment facilities through PsychologyToday and SAMHSA.


  • How to Continue Helping Your Child

    Learn All That You Can

    In addition to seeking help from healthcare professionals, you should educate yourself as much as possible about your child’s mental health condition. NAMI Basics is an educational class that teaches parents and other family caregivers how to cope with their child’s condition and manage their recovery. You can also find information about specific mental health conditions and treatment options on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

    Talk with Your Child’s School

    Check to be sure that your child is receiving appropriate care and services at school. Children with mental health conditions may struggle in school without assistance, leading to frustration and stress. Fortunately, the law requires that schools provide special services and accommodations to children with mental health conditions that interfere with their education. Learn more about how to acquire necessary educational services.

    Work with Your Child

    You need to remain respectful and understanding of your child’s feelings even if everything seems to be working against you. You should avoid getting angry at them for behaviors that are not under their control. This does not mean you can’t set limits or impose discipline. What it does mean is that you must set your expectations in consideration of your child’s mental health. This is often referred to as part of “finding a new normal.”

    Although it can be hard to accept, people who develop mental health conditions may never be the same as they were before. Expecting the same standards of behavior from prior to the onset of their mental health condition will only cause frustration and stress for everyone.


  • How to Take Care of Yourself

    To be able to care for the people you love, you must first take care of yourself. It’s like the advice we’re given on airplanes: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. Taking care of yourself is a valid goal on its own, and it helps you support the people you love.

    Caregivers who pay attention to their own physical and emotional health are better able to handle the challenges of supporting someone with mental illness. They adapt to changes, build strong relationships and recover from setbacks. The ups and downs in your family member’s illness can have a huge impact on you. Improving your relationship with yourself by maintaining your physical and mental health makes you more resilient, helping you weather hard times and enjoy good ones. Here are some suggestions for personalizing your self-care strategy.

    Understand How Stress Affects You

    Stress affects your entire body, physically as well as mentally. Some common physical signs of stress include:

    • Headaches
    • Low energy
    • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea
    • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
    • Insomnia

    Begin by identifying how stress feels to you. Then identify what events or situations cause you to feel that way. You may feel stressed by grocery shopping with your spouse when they’re symptomatic, or going to school events with other parents who don’t know your child’s medical history. Once you know which situations cause you stress, you’ll be prepared to avoid it and to cope with it when it happens.

    Protect Your Physical Health

    Improving your physical wellbeing is one of the most comprehensive ways you can support your mental health. You’ll have an easier time maintaining good mental habits when your body is a strong, resilient foundation.

    • Exercise daily. Exercise can take many forms, such as taking the stairs whenever possible, walking up escalators, and running and biking rather than driving. Joining a class may help you commit to a schedule, if that works best for you. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall health.
    • Eat well. Eating mainly unprocessed foods like whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruit is key to a healthy body. Eating this way can help lower your risk for chronic diseases, and help stabilize your energy levels and mood.
    • Get enough sleep. Adults generally need between seven and nine hours of sleep. A brief nap—up to 30 minutes—can help you feel alert again during the day. Even 15 minutes of daytime sleep is helpful. To make your nighttime sleep count more, practice good “sleep hygiene,” like avoiding using computers, TV and smartphones before bed.
    • Avoid alcohol and drugs. They don’t actually reduce stress and often worsen it.
    • Practice relaxation exercises. Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are easy, quick ways to reduce stress. When conflicts come up between you and your family member, these tools can help you feel less controlled by turbulent feelings and give you the space you need to think clearly about what to do next.

    Recharge Yourself

    When you’re a caregiver of someone with a condition like mental illness, it can be incredibly hard to find time for yourself, and even when you do, you may feel distracted by thinking about what you “should” be doing instead. But learning to make time for yourself without feeling you’re neglecting others—the person with the illness as well as the rest of your family—is critical.

    Any amount of time you take for yourself is important. Being out of “caregiver mode” for as little as five minutes in the middle of a day packed with obligations can be a meaningful reminder of who you are in a larger sense. It can help keep you from becoming consumed by your responsibilities. Start small: think about activities you enjoyed before becoming a caregiver and try to work them back into your life. If you used to enjoy days out with friends, try to schedule a standing monthly lunch with them. It becomes part of your routine and no one has to work extra to make it happen each month.

    The point is not what you do or how often you do it, but that you do take the time to care for yourself. It’s impossible to take good care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself first.

    Practice Good Mental Habits

    • Avoid Guilt. Try not to feel bad about experiencing negative emotions. You may resent having to remind your spouse to take his medication, then feel guilty. It’s natural to think things like “a better person wouldn’t be annoyed with their spouse,” but that kind of guilt is both untrue and unproductive. When you allow yourself to notice your feelings without judging them as good or bad, you dial down the stress and feel more in control. When you feel less stressed, you’re better able to thoughtfully choose how to act.
    • Notice the Positive. When you take the time to notice positive moments in your day, your experience of that day becomes better. Try writing down one thing each day or week that was good. Even if the positive thing is tiny (“It was a sunny day”), it’s real, it counts and it can start to change your experience of life.
    • Gather Strength from Others. NAMI support groups exist to reassure you that countless other people have faced similar challenges and understand your concerns. Talking about your experiences can help. The idea that you can, or should be able to, “solve” things by yourself is false. Often the people who seem like they know how to do everything are actually frequently asking for help; being willing to accept help is a great life skill. If you’re having trouble keeping track of your sister’s Medicaid documents and you’ve noticed your coworker is well-organized, ask them for tips about managing paperwork.

    You may feel you don’t have the time to stay in touch with friends or start new friendships. Focus on the long-term. If you can meet up with a friend once a month, or go to a community event at your local library once every two months, it still helps keep you connected. It also gives you the chance to connect with people on multiple levels. Being a caregiver is an important part of your life, but it’s not the whole story.


  • How to Hold Your Family Together

    When you have a child with mental illness, it is easy to let your concern for them grow to consume your life. Here are some things to remember:

    Take Care of Yourself
    While it is your responsibility to care for and support your child, it is also your responsibility to take care of yourself. You may have to adjust your priorities or your lifestyle, but you should avoid letting the challenges posed by your child’s mental health condition make you neglect other important parts of your life.

    In some cases, the stress of raising a child with a mental illness can contribute to the experience of mental health challenges by a parent. If you begin to feel that you are struggling with sadness or anxiety, do not hesitate to seek treatment for yourself. Caring for your own mental well-being will serve as a model for your child to follow, and ensure that you are healthy and able to care for your child.

    Take Care of Your Family
    Remember that if you have other children, they may resent being pushed to the side if all the attention is placed on their sibling’s mental health challenges. Make sure that they understand what their sibling is going through, and that you spend time with each of them. Keeping a happy and balanced family can be very helpful in reducing stress levels for everyone, which can help alleviate symptoms of mental illness.

    Get Your Family Involved
    If you live with a partner or spouse, or have other children, try to get them involved in being an advocate for your child. You may find that you deal with challenges and obstacles differently than them, but you should find ways to combine strengths to overcome any weaknesses. Be ready to compromise, listen and be open to new ideas.

    It is possible you may discover that some members of your family have little interest in supporting you and your child in dealing with challenges posed by your child’s mental health condition. It is also possible that a spouse or significant other may be a negative influence on your child. They may demand discipline for behaviors your child cannot control, deny that there is anything wrong or insist upon an irrational course of action.

    Helping to raise a child who has a mental health condition can be stressful, and it is unrealistic to assume that anyone, yourself included, will always react in an ideal way. However, you must also realize that it is your responsibility to protect your child, even from others that you care about.


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National Alliance on Mental Illness

Resources for parents and family members of children who have a mental health condition.

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National Eating Disorder Association’s Parent Toolkit

The NEDA Parent Toolkit is for anyone who wants to Learn understand more about how to support a family member or friend affected by an eating disorder. You will find answers to your insurance questions; signs, symptoms and medical consequences; information about treatment and levels of care; and questions to ask when choosing a treatment provider

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Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine’s Resources for Parents

Identifies online resources, networks, treatment guides and provides a treatment services locator. Discusses digital app, Thrive, that is designed to empower parents to begin a dialogue with children about tough health topics such as mental health.

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Make Time to Talk Cards

Conversation starters developed by SAMSA for parents. Approaches topics of bullying.

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline

Free, confidential 24/7, 365 treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorder.

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Suicide Prevention Resource Center for Parents/Guardians/Families

Outline of resource websites that offer suicide prevention resources for parents, guardians, and other family members. The resources provide guidance on talking with your child if you think he or she may be at risk for suicide and on coping with a suicide attempt or death. A few of the resources also discuss how you can take action at the school and community levels to prevent suicide.

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