Depression with self-harm
Depression with suicidal ideation
Depression with psychotic features
Major Depressive Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder with disordered eating
Major Depressive Disorder with Borderline Personality features
Bipolar Disorder II
These are just some of the “official” diagnoses that have shown up on the paperwork for my son over the years. In psychiatric diagnosis, fluidity is more often the norm than certainty, especially for adolescents. If there is a list of ten diagnostic features, and a child has five of them, instead of seven… well, do they have that or not? And so many symptoms, like hearing voices, or disordered eating, cross categories. Is it schizo-affective disorder or depression? OCD or Borderline Personality?
How about medications? Before my son was ill, I had no idea there were so many psych meds, or that hitting on the right one was often a system of trial and error. And then there are combinations and dosages, and the possibilities become endless. Each possibility has its own host of side effects.
Finding therapists, managing to get an appointment with a doctor, researching treatment facilities, plugging into outpatient programs…
And how do we pay for the care our kids need? Even if we have great insurance, it’s still complicated. If the insurance isn’t adequate, the process is opaque and frustrating at best, and heartbreaking at worst. Many resort to the juvenile criminal justice system just to get their kids into any kind of mental health pipeline.
Is it any wonder parents are battling against a paralysis of confusion?
What can help?
1) It can be perversely comforting to look around and realize that everyone else also experiences bafflement when navigating mental illness and its treatment. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and incompetent (I feel so stupid- I don’t understand any of this!), but the truth is even the smartest people have to deal with the steep learning curve. And the curve doesn’t necessarily lead all the way up to expertise.
2) Educate yourself with good, reputable resources. There is a lot of information out there. A lot of it is not helpful or dependable. Get recommendations from mental health professionals for books. Check out the National Institute for Mental Health (government), National Alliance for Mental Health (advocacy), or Mayo Clinic (hospital) websites to start gathering information.
3) Ask God for wisdom and guidance. In our family, we received answers to specific prayer for a Christian therapist (in our own town, no less!), and a pediatric psychiatrist (only a half hour drive). These came from unlikely friend-of-a-friend type connections. Ask your praying friends to join you in these requests. God cares about the particulars of our situations.
Here are some Scriptures to reassure that God wants to give us wisdom and guidance when we ask:
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5
“For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me.” Psalms 31:3
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” Psalms 32:8
“Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” Isaiah 30:21
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” John 14:26