LETTER FROM A PARENT/LEGAL GUARDIAN
(STUDENT TOOK A MEDICAL LEAVE)
I knew that we were going to get the call from Brown that day. I could see her downward spiral in recent phone calls and felt totally helpless, knowing that there was nothing I could do to prevent her from hitting bottom. It took all of my strength to sit there, first listening to the dean and then going to see my child in the hospital.
Children don’t come with an instruction manual. And I often felt like I was flying blind, dealing with a child with a mental illness. I wanted to do the right things, but I often did not know what exactly those were.
It took plenty of trial and error, reaching out, getting rebuffed, and reaching out again. Part of my challenge was coming to terms with the realization that it was not my illness, but my child’s. And even though I wanted to take charge and make everything better, I couldn’t. I had to learn the hard way that only she could address her illness. That meant that she had to find it within her to start the processing of healing. The most that I could do is be there, as part of her support system while she went through her treatment plan.
Maybe if I knew another Brown parent who had been through the experience, I might not have hit so many bumps in the road. And, with the idea of paying it forward, here is what I would share as lessons learned from a fellow parent who has gone through what you are experiencing now:
Be patient. Your child and their providers will develop a treatment plan to address their particular needs. Unfortunately, determining and adjusting the medications to treat a mental illness takes time. Recognize that there is no immediate recovery, but that there will be a sometimes achingly slow uphill climb potentially months and years in the making. Provide encouragement to your child as they make progress and sympathize at setbacks. There will be good days and bad days, but remember that everyone—your child, you and their providers—is working toward the common goal of having the good days outnumber the bad. Celebrate the successes along the way.
Encourage independence. When you have a mentally ill child, your instinct is to be extra protective. The goal for any college-age child is to encourage them to stand on their feet and try to live independently. That goal should be no different for a child who is mentally ill, even though it is even harder for that parent to step aside. It may take more time for the individual to function effectively independently. Your role is to support them during this time and to treat them like the adult they are.
Determine the best medium and time for communicating. Find out what means of communication is least stressful for your child—phone calls, texts, email, or Skype chats. Recognize that your child may be trying to balance competing emotions—if so, the instantaneous nature of a phone call may not give them sufficient time to be composed and express themself. Let them figure out what method works best, given their needs, and work with them in setting a mutually convenient timeframe for checking in with them.
Consider getting support for yourself. Being a parent of a sick child is not easy. It can be particularly challenging when the sickness is a mental illness. You are not the only one who has gone through this experience. Think about seeking counseling (whether via a provider or support group) for yourself to learn how to cope with your child’s illness.
(STUDENT TOOK A LEAVE)