Youth Mental Illness Dynamics to Consider

Building a framework for recovery

Excerpted From
Grace for the Children
By Matthew S. Stanford

Mental illness affects more than just the child with the disorder; it affects their entire family. Difficulties, stigma and shame often isolate whole families trying to care for a mentally ill child from the world around them. In addition, high levels of stress and difficult symptoms can result in relational conflict requiring forgiveness and reconciliation.

Family and friends. The symptoms of mental disorders can interfere with trust, emotional closeness, communication and effective problem solving. At the beginning of symptoms, family members and friends often look for answers or reasons for the problems other than mental illness, hoping that the symptoms are caused by some other physical problems, spiritual issues or external stressors that can be easily removed. It is imperative that the family and friends of a child or adolescent living with mental illness gain understanding about the disorder and receive support from others. Without information to help families learn to cope with mental-health difficulties, they can lose hope and withdraw. Supportive family and friends are an important part of recovery. They can be there to listen and to help during the rough times. If people offer help, let them help. Do you need a meal, a grocery pickup, a load of laundry washed, and the like? Share specific prayer requests with trusted friends. Do not walk this road alone. A loving community provides hope.

Resolving conflict. Every relationship will have some conflict; therefore, it’s important to learn and grow from them. Resolving conflicts is more about compromising to create a healthy conclusion than proving a point. If you push a child to embrace your point of view, it creates more tension and can come across as manipulative. If you find yourself in conflict with a child or adolescent, ask yourself if the disorder may be clouding their judgment. If so, allow yourself (and them) to take a break and return later to follow-up with more appropriate perspective and emotions. When you do engage them, use an active listening approach to defuse tension. First, validate their emotions and feelings. Next, affirm them as a person of faith in Christ and a beloved child. Finally, offer an opportunity for reconciliation by providing grace to find a point of common ground to restore harmony. With time, you will learn to respond rather than simply react with anger and offense in these situations.

Overcoming stigma. Stigma is always born out of fear and misinformation and can only be overcome by honesty and education. The purpose of stigma is to minimize, disgrace or dehumanize someone so that inaction and a lack of compassion can be justified. Others’ wrongly held views and beliefs (stigma) are hurtful and not the child’s fault; don’t own them. Mental disorders are not the result of personal sin, generational sin, having a weak faith, or demonic oppression or possession. All believers struggle with sin and weakness of faith at times, but God still chooses to love and care for us.

Educate family and friends about the causes and treatments of the child’s mental disorder. Find a supportive faith community where the family and child are safe to recover rather than be condemned.

Opportunities to serve. When we serve others, we are actually serving God, “Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me’” (Matt. 25:40). We are most like Jesus when we’re serving others. After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:14–15).

As the child gains stability, look for simple ways for them to serve and bless others. Whether at home, for a neighbor or at church, serving provides a healthy way to look beyond personal difficulties and engage others with compassion. Serving others builds value and worth.

My hope is that this chapter has shown you that a comprehensive holistic mental-health-care plan is far more complex than simply taking pills and attending intermittent therapy sessions. A holistic mental-health-care plan offers children struggling with a mental disorder and their families a more complete framework for recovery. Recovery is a process, and in that process every aspect of a child’s being must be taken into account for healing to be successful. For a detailed holistic mental-health recovery curriculum, please contact the Hope and Healing Center & Institute (mentalhealthgateway.org).

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Excerpted from Grace for the Children by Matthew S. Stanford, PhD. Copyright (c) 2019 by Matthew S. Stanford, PhD. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. IVPress.com