Where can I get support when my child has a mental illness?

Today’s guest blogger Carol Caruso is a member on the National Alliance on Mental Illness board of directors and the executive director of NAMI PA Montgomery County. She talks more today how they help families who contact NAMI for help.

Parents faced with a sudden change in their child’s behavior are often at a loss -- what to do or where to turn for help. Their once bright, active and well-adjusted youngster may suddenly become moody, lose interest in friends and activities, and start to fail in school.  In other cases, their child may have just received a mental health diagnosis and parents do not know what it means when it comes to the course of treatment and prognosis.

At NAMI, we receive many calls from parents asking for resources, support and guidance. We’ve helped parents deal with some of the most common mental illnesses experienced by children and adolescents, which include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD), major depression and early onset bipolar disorder.  

NAMI has many resources for families and can refer them provider agencies for services.  NAMI also has education and support programs, such as NAMI Basics, a free course specifically designed for parents and caregivers of children and adolescents who are living with mental illness. It is not necessary that the child has received a specific diagnosis. Caregivers who suspect their child is experiencing symptoms can also benefit greatly from the course as they begin to navigate the evaluation and treatment process.

NAMI Basics provides learning and practical advice, including getting an accurate diagnosis, the latest research on the medical aspects of the illness and advances in treatment, an overview of treatment options and the impact of the child’s mental illness on the rest of the family.  The course runs for six weeks, meeting once a week for two and a half hours, and is taught by parents and other primary caregivers who have lived similar experiences with their own children.  Families can also find support groups in the region through NAMI.  

Another resource offered by NAMI is the Family Guide on Adolescent Depression. This guide covers issues related to teens and depression, symptoms and the importance of taking all concerns about suicide very seriously, understanding self-harm and specifically providing coping mechanisms to use in place of self-harm, the importance of talking to teens about depression, a general overview of treatment options and how families can advocate for their child.

NAMI also provides a web section dedicated to the topic of depression, as well as calls with our medical director, Ken Duckworth, M.D., the third week of every month featuring a focus on children and youth. It’s an opportunity for families to call in to ask questions and share ideas. Child and teen depression is often covered on these calls.

NAMI is here to let individuals experiencing symptoms of mental illness and their families know that help and support are available. Adolescence can be a roller coaster ride in and of itself. However,  it can be frightening and unsettling when depression or other symptoms are present. How this affects the entire family needs to be addressed, and NAMI’s services and supports do just that. The overall message is one of hope, that treatment works, support is available and you are not alone.


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