Saturday, October 17, 2009

You need to step back...?

I have been talking with a new friend of mine whose daughter is in the midst of a mental health crisis. It is somewhat unusual in most people's circle of friends to know someone who has a child in a lock-down psychiatric facility and who was placed there after spiraling into a psychotic meltdown. But, it happens and it happens to the best of families, moms, dads, sisters and brothers. Having gone through this myself I know that friends and acquaintances generally want to help. They want to offer the right words to support you in your panic and fear of the unknown. My new friend reminded me of what was helpful.....and what was not helpful.

Hope, hope and mostly, optimistic hope.

Things to say:
It will get better. There is excellent treatment available. It can take time and what can I do for you while it is taking time? Let me run errands, make a meal, buy you a coffee, pick up your children/dry-cleaning/paycheck and deposit it for you so that YOU can spend time with your sick child.

Run away, change the subject, interrupt to change the subject, look horrified.

Not-so-helpful things to say:
Oh-my-gawd, what are you going to do???? (not kidding, this has been said). Oh dear, this is so horrible, what will ever become of her/him? Let me tell you about my friend who's daughter/son had (fill in the most awful story you can imagine) and then add (and she/he is now living on the streets, completely destitute, fried on drugs and the family can do NOTHING)!

The last not-so-helpful thing to say deserves a few comments. "You should try to give (your son/daughter) space. You are too tied up in all of this. You need to back away some." Well, please change the crisis from a mental health crisis to a medical crisis. Your child has just been hit by a car and is in the ER and then in intensive care. What parent is ever advised to "give them space"? Friends and family rally around so that the parents can be there, doing everything they can to support the care team. Our friends and family offered that to us and no one ever suggested that we should lessen our time and effort to support our daughter. Thank you, family and friends! The above and not-so-help comments have been said to my friend. Somewhere in these comments, even if meant to be helpful, lies the subliminal message, "Could your parenting style have caused this?" Parents question themselves enough as it is in the midst of these crises. We need no nudges to consider our own feelings of guilt and fear.

So, dear friend, your daughter will get better. You will have some times in the near future when you can breathe again. There is hope. Your support and advocacy and sometimes even down right pushiness is critical for her recovery. Tell your friends what they can do for you even if it is just to listen. Stay the course. I wish you peace.
Salome Painting by Jordan Swain (


Corrie Howe said...

Thanks for sharing these. I hope that I won't need the information. But glad I can come to it if I need it.

Megan said...

I have had a friend say that exactly "What are you going to do with this bipolar child!!??" after she was asked to leave a private school. This friend was a very dear friend, but has really pulled away from me and my family, which has been very hard.

Accidental Expert said...

We have had so many people run away or just look at us in horror when my kids were in crisis. That is devastating. But I have also found some wonderful people who jump right in there and offer the practical help you talked about -- they are my friends.

Great post and great blog. Glad I found you.

Katie Donohue Bevins said...

Thank you for this. I especially appreciate the comparison of a medical crisis to a mental health crisis. So spot on. Enjoying your blog immensely. Thank you for the link. Looking forward to reading Linea's blog too. Best, Katie

Tara said...

Thanks for the list of do's and don'ts. I got here from my friend Leah's (Mommiest Girl) blog. When her kids are in crisis it's hard to know how to help, particularly because I have four kids of my own. You know the drill.

Anyway, thanks for putting some okay things to say and do in my head. I'll keep them there for future reference!