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When Your Mentally Ill Child Refuses Help

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As a teenager, I made everything tougher than it needed to be.

I argued when I was asked to do chores. I was miserable just to prove a point. I wouldn’t listen to good advice.

I was also a teenager with mental illness.

This changes the dynamic between parent and child in a big way—besides the normal parent-child arguments, now you fight about medications, psychiatrist visits, and counseling sessions.

Parents of children that have mental illness may also deal with problems like substance abuse, promiscuous sex, erratic and dangerous behavior, and even suicidal behavior.

Even the most supportive parent wonders where to turn for help.

Sometimes, there aren’t enough local resources available, or parents don’t even know where to begin to go and get them.

Many parents that I’ve talked to say that at least when their child is troubled, they still live under their roof. They feel, at least, like they have some sort of control over the situation.

But when your child grows up and moves out, how do you deal with the fear, anxiety, frustration, and other emotions that come with that lack of control?

I read a great article by Victoria Maxwell, a writer that lives with bipolar disorder. One day, she decided to discuss being an adult child with mental illness with her father.

Some of their wisdom includes the following:

  • Parents: Having a child with mental illness is undoubtedly a long, difficult journey, and it is best to be realistic about this up front. Not to be negative, but it’s a good idea to be prepared for the ups and downs that come with having a child with a mental disorder.
  • Just because it is taking a long time, doesn’t mean recovery won’t happen.
  • Victoria’s dad’s advice to parents is to stay in contact with your child no matter what. Yes, even if they don’t want to be in contact with you. Victoria and her dad attest to the fact that even when she didn’t want to return her parents’ calls, she still was appreciative of them caring about her.
  • Yes, sometimes the more you offer help, the more your child will push you away. But, your care and support will keep your child safe or at least will let them know that you are a safe haven as well.
  • Even when Victoria’s interactions were negative with her parents, what was important was that there was contact.
  • Victoria’s parents were open and accepting of her diagnosis and she has always been very appreciative of that. This provided ground for her self-acceptance.
  • If you as a parent are feeling overwhelmed, frightened, exhausted, this is completely natural. This is an incredibly difficult experience.
  • You should get support from other parents going through the same ordeal. Contact your local mental health group. Knowing that you are not alone can be extremely helpful and provide invaluable resources.

Here are some educational and support resources for parents with children with mental illness:

National Alliance on Mental Illness—grassroots organization with branches across the US

Canadian Mental Health Association—national mental health organization with branches across Canada

Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance—a great interactive organization with a great website. Branches across the US.

Mental Health America—find a support group

Mood Disorders Society of Canada—mental health mood disorder organization

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health—Canada

The Balanced Mind Foundation—for parents of children with mood disorders


Other organizations that might be helpful for support:

Alcoholics Anonymous

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

1-800-273-TALK (Suicide Prevention and Support Hotline)

The Jed Foundation


Please comment on your experience either as a parent of a child with mental illness or as an adult child with mental illness. How was your relationship with your parent or child? What do you wish you could have done differently? How do you feel now that your child has moved out?


Maxwell, V. (2012, February 28). Families falling apart: when adult children with mental illness don’t want help. Psychology Today, Retrieved from

Photo Credit: Creative Commons License martinak15 via Compfight

When Your Mentally Ill Child Refuses Help

Kat Dawkins

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APA Reference
Dawkins, K. (2019). When Your Mentally Ill Child Refuses Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2019
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