Published: May 29, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: May 26, 2012 09:43 AM
When a loved one has a mental illness
Under the best of circumstances, parenting is the most challenging job you will ever have. But when a child struggles with mental health issues, that challenge is magnified 100-fold and it can affect your entire family.When my daughter, E, was 18 months old, she started experiencing violent rages and tantrums. After years of cycling through a series of mental health providers and institutions, she was eventually diagnosed with anxiety, severe expressive-receptive language disorder and integration issues. Her mental health challenges were compounded by diabetes, a thyroid condition and intolerance for foods containing gluten, dairy and corn.As E grew and entered public school, it quickly became apparent that the school system had a poor understanding of mental illness – choosing to handle it as a behavioral issue – and that proved to be a disaster for my child. In third grade, the stress surrounding end-of-grade testing caused E to be hospitalized. During the next few years, amid subsequent hospitalizations, we searched in vain for an academic solution at several public and private schools, but none were effective in addressing her myriad needs. Frustrated and desperate to help E, and make sense of “the system,” I became involved with the school system’s Special Needs Advisory Council. That is where I learned about FAN (Family Advocacy Network) and Mental Health of America of the Triangle. Through family advocates and parent mentors, FAN supports families as they navigate the various service agencies on behalf of their children.My FAN advocate, Julie Bailey, proved to be a calming voice in the heat of the storm. Julie shared her knowledge and expertise of school and mental health systems and helped me access the services and resources my daughter needed. She listened to my concerns, attended IEP (Individual Education Program) meetings with me, and advised and guided me through a convoluted maze of services where nothing is intuitive.Two years ago, E’s academic plight led me to establish Just Right Academy, a private school offering children (grades K-10) what they need in terms of structure, consistency, positive reinforcement, remediation, multi-sensory instruction, movement and reduced stress.Managing the mental illness of a loved one can be very isolating. But through FAN, I have found support and encouragement from other parents who know – first-hand – the challenges and triumphs of raising a special needs child. FAN parents help each other feel connected and understood, without passing judgment, and create a network of support that I can rely upon as I manage the complexities of raising my daughter. For more information about FAN, and to learn more about becoming a family advocate or parent mentor, visit bit.ly/KRtR7Z.
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