When you are the parent of a son with mental illness, it is common to be both worried about his well-being and concerned about how to support him. You can’t cure your child all by yourself, but you can play a vital role in putting him on the path toward a healthier and more hopeful future.
Signs Your Son Has a Mental Illness
Acknowledging the existence of a problem is a vital first step in the effort to help a son with mental illness. Unfortunately, this isn’t always as easy as it seems. Some mental health disorders cause drastic symptoms that are virtually impossible to ignore. Others may be more difficult to detect.
You don’t have to be a mental health expert to identify the signs that your child may be in crisis. What’s most important is to keep an eye out for significant changes. If your son exhibits uncharacteristic behaviors such as the following, he may have a mental health disorder:
- Undergoing dramatic shifts in mood and attitude
- Sleeping either too much or not enough
- Eating much more or less than usual
- Unintentionally gaining or losing a noticeable amount of weight
- Neglecting his appearance, grooming, and hygiene
- Having considerably or less energy than usual
- Acting with uncommon anger, aggression, or violence
- Losing interest in sports, hobbies, or other activities that used to be very important to him
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Spending greater amounts of time alone
- Seeming to have problems focusing and concentrating
- Frequently missing school or work for no apparent reason
- Experiencing a sudden downturn in performance at work or in school
- Often complaining of headaches, stomach aches, or other generalized pain
- Commenting that he wishes he could disappear, or fall asleep and never wake up
If your son has been exhibiting signs like the ones listed above – or if he has been dealing with more severe symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions – he should be assessed by a qualified mental healthcare provider.
In the next section, we’ll discuss how to support your son with mental illness before, during, and after he gets the help he needs.
How to Help Your Son with Mental Illness
For a parent, one of the most heartbreaking aspects of having a son with mental illness is realizing that you can’t make his pain go away. However, as we noted at the outset of this post, you can play an essential role in the effort to keep him safe and connect him with the services that can improve both the substance and quality of his life. Here are four tips to help you accomplish these goals:
1. Do Your Research
If your son has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, educate yourself about this condition. If he has been exhibiting symptoms but hasn’t been diagnosed, research possible causes and effects of these symptoms.
The more you learn about what your son is experiencing, the better prepared you will be to provide meaningful assistance. This includes investigating treatment options and identifying providers in your area that may have the services that your son needs.
2. Talk to Your Son
Talking about mental illness isn’t always easy, but it is extremely important:
- Let your son know that you are concerned about him.
- Share your concerns about the symptoms he has been exhibiting.
- Reiterate your love and support.
- When appropriate, discuss treatment options.
Realize that your son may respond with denial or even anger. Prepare ahead of time, so you can respond to these potential negative responses in a peaceful and reassuring manner. Don’t make accusations or issue ultimatums.
Also, understand that you will likely need to have multiple conversations about mental illness with your son, so don’t feel like you have to cover everything the first time you address the topic.
3. Establish (and Maintain) Healthy Boundaries
Your son’s health is understandably a priority for you. But it should not be your only priority. You also need to tend to your own needs and keep yourself safe.
Making excuses for your son, covering up for his actions, or protecting him from negative repercussions are co-dependent behaviors that may actually be exacerbating his mental health challenges. These choices can also have a profound negative impact on your mental health and on the well-being of other family members.
Setting firm expectations for what you will and will not tolerate – and sticking to your convictions even if doing so causes your son to react negatively – can be vital both for his health and yours.
4. Consult with a Professional
Even if your son isn’t ready to enter a treatment program or speak with a counselor or therapist, there are several good reasons why you should consult with a professional yourself:
- A professional can help you process your experiences and address the impact that your son’s mental health struggles have had on your life.
- If you have a spouse, partner, and/or other children, family therapy sessions can be valuable sources of guidance and support.
- If you have been having trouble with boundaries, or with any other aspect of your relationship with your son, a professional can suggest ways to address and overcome these challenges.
- A professional may be able to offer insights into what your son has been experiencing. They may also be able to suggest treatment options that may be right for your child.
- If your son has been refusing to get treatment, a professional can recommend strategies for convincing him that he needs help.
Finally, remember that there’s a reason why flight attendants advise parents to put on their oxygen masks first before assisting their children. You cannot provide maximum support to your son if you are neglecting your own needs. Consulting with a mental health professional can help you maintain your psychological health, so that you will have the strength you need to help your son.
Find Mental Health Treatment in Atlanta, GA
Peachtree Wellness Solutions offers multiple levels of customized treatment for adults in the Atlanta, Georgia, area whose lives have been disrupted by anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health concerns. Our center is a safe and welcoming place where your son can receive the personalized care he needs and the comprehensive support he deserves.
To learn more or to schedule a free mental health assessment for your son, please visit our admissions page or call us at your earliest convenience.