the parent's journey of accepting their child's mental health diagnosis
The Kubler-Ross model, first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, provides a useful framework for understanding the emotional responses to loss or significant life changes, such as receiving a mental health diagnosis for a child. The five stages of the model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It's important to note that these stages do not always occur in a specific order, and some individuals may not experience all of them. However, by understanding these stages and how they may apply, parents can feel empowered to navigate their emotions in a productive way and find hope in the process of coping with the diagnosis.
In the stage of denial, a parent may initially reject the diagnosis and believe that it is not true or that it will go away on its own.
Can look like Can feel likeAvoidance ShockProcrastination NumbnessForgetting ConfusionEasily distracted Shutting downMindless behaviors Keeping busy all the time
In the stage of anger, a parent may feel anger towards themselves, their child, the healthcare professionals, or the situation in general.
Can look like Can feel likePessimism FrustrationCynicism ImpatienceSarcasm ResentmentIrritability EmbarrassmentBeing aggressive or passive-aggressive RageGetting into arguments or physical fights Feeling out of controlIncreased alcohol or drug use
In the stage of bargaining, a parent may try to find ways to prevent or reverse the diagnosis, such as by seeking alternative treatments or making promises to themselves or a higher power.
Can look like Can feel likeRuminating on the future or past GuiltOverthinking and worrying ShameComparing self to others BlamePredicting the future and assuming the worst Fear, anxietyPerfectionism InsecurityThinking/saying, "I should have..." or "If only..." Judgment toward self and/or others
In the stage of depression, a parent may feel overwhelmed with sadness and hopelessness about the diagnosis and the future.
Can look like Can feel likeSleep and appetite changes SadnessReduced energy DespairReduced social interest HelplessnessReduced motivation HopelessnessCrying DisappointmentIncreased alcohol or drug use Overwhelmed
In the stage of acceptance, a parent may come to understand and accept the diagnosis and focus on finding ways to support their child and move forward.
Can look like Can feel likeMindful behaviors "Good enough"Engaging with reality as it is Courageous"This is how it is right now" ValidationBeing present in the moment Self-compassionAble to be vulnerable & tolerate emotions PrideAssertive, non-defensive, honest communication WisdomAdapting, coping, responding skillfully
Accepting a child's mental health diagnosis does not mean that a parent will not experience distress or negative emotions. Rather, acceptance involves acknowledging and validating the desire to fight against the diagnosis, but also re-orienting oneself to the reality of the present moment. This may involve practicing mindfulness and adopting a non-judgmental, curious attitude. It may also involve taking care of one's own needs and checking in with oneself. It is normal to experience ups and downs in mood, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors while moving through the acceptance stage, and it can be difficult to maintain acceptance when things feel unacceptable.
It's important to allow yourself the time and space to go through these stages and to process your emotions. It's okay to feel sad or angry, and it's okay to take things one day at a time. It's also important to seek support from friends, family, and professionals to help you through this time.
One helpful recommendation is to educate yourself about your child's mental health condition. The more you know about it, the better equipped you will be to support your child and to understand their experiences. There are many resources available, including books, online articles, and support groups. Some resources to get you started are shared below.
Another recommendation is to focus on self-care. Taking care of yourself is important in order to be there for your child and to support them in the best way possible. This may include getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, and finding ways to manage stress.
As a parent, it's natural to want to protect your child and to keep them from experiencing pain or hardship. But the reality is that life is filled with challenges, and it's through facing these challenges that we grow and learn. By understanding the emotions that parents go through when their child is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, they can better equip themselves to provide the support their child needs to succeed. With patience, understanding, and love, parents can assist their child in achieving a higher level of wellness. By accepting your child's mental health diagnosis and supporting them on their journey, you are helping them to build resilience and to live a happy, healthy life.
From the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, MENTAL HEALTH ONLINE RESOURCES FOR PARENTS:● Center for Young Women’s Health and Young Men’s Health: These websites provide information targeted at parents of adolescents, including guides on how to support children suffering from depression and eating disorders. http://youngwomenshealth.org/parents/ and http://youngmenshealthsite.org/parents/● Children’s Mental Health Ontario: This website offers brochures for parents in a variety of languages on common mental health disorders affecting youth. www.kidsmentalhealth.ca/parents/signs_disorders.php● Headspace: This website from Australia has a wealth of resources and videos for parents and caregivers of young adults age 12-25 years who have mental health concerns. http://headspace.org.au/family/● HealthlyChildren.Org: Sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this website provides a wide-range of resources for parents of teens and young adults. https://www.healthychildren.org● Jed Foundation: Promoting emotional health and prevent suicide among college students, this website provides resources, including Transition Year, that are designed to help parents recognize the signs of a mental health problems and help their child’s transition to college. http://www.jedfoundation.org/parents● Kelty Mental Health Resource Center: Numerous resources for parents and caregivers can be found at this website including a resource library and family toolkit. http://keltymentalhealth.ca/family ● National Institute of Mental Health: Working to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses, NIMA’s website provides guides and brochures directed at parents. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/● Teen Health: This website helps parents care for their child’s ups and downs, from dealing with divorce to preparing for new siblings. Also provides information on how to understand your child’s behavior, whether it’s toddler tantrums or teenage depression. http://teenshealth.org/parent/emotions/● Teen Mental Health: Geared towards teenagers, this website provides learning tools on a variety of mental illnesses, videos, and resources for parents and caregivers. http://teenmentalhealth.org/care/parents/ MENTAL HEALTH NETWORKS● Balanced Mind Parent Network: This network guides families raising children and teens with mood disorders to the answers, support, and stability they seek. http://www.thebalancedmind.org/● Children and Adults with ADHD: CHADD provides education, advocacy, and support for those affected by ADHD, including resources for parents and caregivers. http://www.chadd.org/● National Alliance on Mental Illness: By providing resources for family members/caregivers, this website helps parents care for children with mental illness, care for themselves, prepare for a crisis, and prevent suicide. https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Family-Members-and-Caregivers● National Eating Disorder Association: NEDA offers resources to find help and support through their Parent, Family, and Friends Network. www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/family-and-friends● National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health: This organization focuses on the issues of children and youth with emotional, behavioral, or mental health needs and their families. www.ffcmh.org/● What Works 4 U: By sharing information and learning from others on what treatments are working for them, parents are able to help improve mental health treatment for their children. http://whatworks4u.org/
Adolescent Health: Resources for Parents of Adolescents. (n.d.). Mental Health Resources for Parents of Adolescents. Retrieved from https://www.adolescenthealth.org/Resources/Clinical-Care-Resources/Mental-Health/Mental-Health-Resources-For-Parents-of-Adolescents.aspx
David, M. (2017, February 27). Accepting Your Child's Mental Illness in the Stages of Grief, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, January 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2017/02/from-grief-to-hope-parenting-a-child-with-mental-illness