From One Parent to Another: How to Help Your Child

DEC. 09, 2016

By Karen Meadows


When my family was struggling with the onset of our teenage daughter’s mental illness, stigma made us reluctant to “come out.” It was too late before we realized we weren’t as alone as we thought. According to NIMH, just over 20 percent (or 1 in 5) children have a seriously debilitating mental health condition. By staying silent, we perpetuated stigma and prevented ourselves from finding the best available help.

Sadie lost her battle with mental illness, and I lost my daughter.

Through this heartbreaking experience, I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. I’m sharing my newfound knowledge with you—parent-to-parent—with the hope that even one of these suggestions might prevent another lost battle. 

Accept Your Child’s Diagnosis

For many parents, their child’s diagnosis is difficult to process. You want so badly for your child to have a normal, happy life that it’s easy to believe, on good days, that they have overcome their challenges. Accept that the way their brain works is a unique part of who they are. Help your child find a new normal—one that leverages their strengths, interests and capabilities. Build a normal, happy life that fits them.

Get Educated and Network

Read as much as you can. Get on the distribution list of as many mental health organizations you can that provide information, support and research updates. Talk with trusted friends, colleagues and family. I know this is hard, but you will be surprised at how many people open up to you about their challenges. Help may come from the most unexpected places.

Listen and Don’t be Judgmental

Instead of focusing on your child’s behaviors, try to understand their feelings. Rather than asking “why” questions, which can sound judgmental, ask “how” or “what” questions.

Consider taking effective communication training. After Sadie died, I volunteered to work on a crisis line. I learned how to defuse anger, connect with people and partake in collaborative problem-solving. I’ve always felt as though these skills would have helped me communicate with Sadie more effectively.

Call a Crisis Line

If you or your child needs information, resources or someone to talk to during difficult times, make a call or send a text to:

Don’t Let Shame Interfere with Getting Help

If your child had a physical condition, you would seek medical help. Do the same for your child if they have a mental health condition. Find a mental health specialist who provides the right kind of therapy, is highly recommended and is someone your child connects with.

As your child grows, their mental health condition may change or evolve. Consider requesting a periodic assessment of their diagnosis. To identify the appropriate treatment, a good diagnosis is critical.

Empower Your Child

Teach them positive lifestyle habits, such as diet, exercise, regular sleep and mindfulness. Talk about the dangers of self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Link your child with legitimate resources that provide help and community for youth.

Have a Discussion About Suicide

Find out whether your child is having suicidal ideation, and if they have plans to act on those thoughts. Talking openly and showing genuine concern are key elements in preventing suicide. Make sure they have crisis phone numbers saved to their phone. Also, have a crisis plan prepared for them.

Have Hope

Remember that new developments are happening every year. Don’t give up, because your child’s life may depend on your perseverance.

NAMI also offers a class—NAMI-Family-to-Family—that might help you to better understand your child’s condition. These classes can help learn all I’ve learned, and more.


Karen Meadows, author of “Searching for Normal: The Story of a Girl Gone Too Soon.” After a six-year battle with her teenage daughter’s depression and subsequent suicide, Karen Meadows left behind her successful career in the energy industry to immerse herself in mental health issues. She spent years reading about mental illness and reading her daughter’s extensive writing. She volunteered on a crisis line and at homeless youth centers, and serves on the Oregon Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Board of Directors. Meadows lives with her husband and two cats in Portland, Oregon.


JUL, 01, 2018 10:53:28 PM
I have a seventeen year old son who is in a group home because he was court ordered because of his juvenile record once his juvenile record is dropped I was told he could come home

FEB, 16, 2018 06:27:03 AM

AUG, 15, 2017 10:42:15 AM
Thanks for opening the eyes of many of us who are in denial.

APR, 26, 2017 12:16:03 AM
Barb Ledbury
Saying a special HELLO to the other 11 members of the NAMI first steering committee meeting in Wisconsin in 1979. Wondering how many are still around.

JAN, 09, 2017 10:21:56 PM
My 34 year old son jumped off a building on Christmas day! He survived but wishes he didn't ! He has lost hope and is tired of dealing with an illness that is unrelentlessly cruel. He suffers with shizoaffective disorder. The mental health industry has failed him and is totally disfunctional. Eight years of treatment and back to square one!!!

JAN, 05, 2017 12:54:43 PM
Has anyone had "success" with kicking a defiant teenager out of the house who is unwilling to take their meds, blames us for everything and refuses to follow a treatment plan? He does have a job, just not any support of any kind outside of our family. Thoughts?

JAN, 02, 2017 06:53:20 PM
Thanks for sharing your journey and my prayers to you and yours for continued strength and wisdom as you help others!
Our son is 45 and has paranoid sczhophenic....more paranoia. He graduated college with this illness; was hospitalized a few times, 51-50'd etc. We to have him arrested for breaking a restraining step ever as we finally got medical help. Nathan works part-time...lives on his own, drives, but is a very lonely young man. He has not taken is med's now for over 6 pos. and his paranoia increases. I dont really think his monthly psych. visit does much help. We also have fought with Ssi. for his disability; it has been hell dealing with Ssi. and very costly to us as parents supplementing his very little income. I enjoy reading your blog and hearing from others and their battle! Hoping our government helps those with mental illness. Thanks!

DEC, 30, 2016 07:58:38 PM
May God bless each and everyone of you. I to am a caregiver to a 15 yr old granddaughter who suffers from mental illness, bipolar disorder, ADHD.

DEC, 30, 2016 01:43:51 PM
Charlene Turenne
Best advice. Best help. Join NAMI. Take the Family to Family class offered for free. Sign up for his blog and read everything you can from Pete Earley. My son has a serious mental illness and this is where I found help and understanding.

DEC, 30, 2016 11:20:56 AM
Linda Grimes
So sorry for your loss. I have a bipolar, 38 year old, son. I have joined NAMI and will be attending my first parent-to-parent class soon. I am very sad that my son is not well and does not take any steps to help himself.

DEC, 29, 2016 11:53:17 PM
Janice Meich
I agree with carol - different doctors different diagnoses my son has been in and out of mental hospitals, rehabs, counseling, etc. he took depakot for mood swings years ago it damaged his liver and wound up w hep c. He was lucky to get the new treatment that cured his liver. I will not put him on the street or jail - this will not help him. He was in a psych hospital over Christmas but refused meds. He says meds make him feel worse like a zombie. This is so frustrating

DEC, 29, 2016 05:23:26 AM
Very inoressuve what you are able to contribute after such a huge loss of your daughter.!! I cant imaging going through something like that. Kudos to you!

I have a daughter with bipolar disorder and she has gone off her meds and wants to move out. Unfortunately she became so unstable while off meds that we were concerned about her safety and took her of our car insurance snd her psychiatrist applied to the ministry to have her license suspended. I was hoping that this would lead to some positive changes to get help but in the end she is so full of resentment and distrust that she just wants to move out, although I have no idea how she can afford it. I'm losing my daughter, she doesn't trust me anymore. What can I do to turn things around? Right now everything is my fault!

DEC, 28, 2016 07:37:31 PM
My daughter is 42,living in a mental health group home. She has been hospitalized four times due to suicide attempts. She blames her family, mainly her Dad, brother & sister-in-law. She had a terrible mania outburst during Christmas. She believes it was brought on by prednisone to stop a month long migraine. She has never be able to hold a job. We are retired and financially support her as well as are her brother & sister-in-law. She really scared and upset her niece 7 & nephew 5 during family celebration of Christmas. Her. Either is insisting she not be allowed to see the kids again. I see their point but this will destroy my daughter. What do I do? I am the one who has to enforce this. As the little ones are at our home very often. How can I help my daughter & still protect the rest of the family, including myself?

DEC, 28, 2016 04:25:14 PM
I like the idea of effective communication strategies. Do you have a blog page where you elaborate more on that? What did you learn when you volunteered to work on a crisis line. How do you "defuse anger, connect with people and partake in collaborative problem-solving." I think that would be a great blog topic.

DEC, 23, 2016 02:38:54 AM
Robyn R
THANK U!!! Ive been struggling with anxiety and depression since age 21, I am now 36. It was very difficult to understand myself but even harder when I couldnt explain why I sad so often to my loved ones. They didnt get it so was not able to help. I am happy that I was able to start conversations with doctors tho it took me many years. I am sorry for your loss, but your daughter lives through each person that you help... This passage HELPED me and I will pass it on to my family later today.

DEC, 22, 2016 09:39:53 AM
I am dying to help my son. He is 41 and living with my self and my husband who is his stepfather. He is suffering from depression and anxiety. He did get counseling and medication for a time, but he won't get a job. He has lost 20 jobs or more. He can not hold a job. He is blaming his stepfather for all his problems, and his stepfather does not want him living with us. What do I do? Do I kick him out?

DEC, 20, 2016 03:15:00 PM
Brenda Hansen
I need help withim my Son

DEC, 13, 2016 10:46:39 PM
Dianne Halderman
Thank you for your courage. I lost my daughter as well. It seems there was never a joyful day in her life. To work for a crisis line after your loss - I cannot imagine. Thank you, thank you for wanting to help others.

DEC, 13, 2016 11:14:48 AM
Great article. Thank you

DEC, 12, 2016 03:07:15 PM
I'm a high school nurse

DEC, 11, 2016 10:42:45 PM
Thanks for sharing. Both of my daughters are suicide survivors. I was lucky that while they did act- they also told me so I could do something to get them help.

DEC, 11, 2016 08:15:22 PM
Maggie Bair
Thank you for writing such a good article. I too lost my child. I wish you success with your book and all your endeavors. Peace to you.

DEC, 11, 2016 07:33:13 PM
David Behar
No one is listening. I am yelling this everywhere I can.

Eyesight supervision. Then ordinary treatment, forced if necessary.

The prisons of the US have nearly eliminated suicide. The Air Force dropped it by over half. Why not imitate what has worked on a grand scale already.

DEC, 11, 2016 06:51:07 PM
Todd Giffen
Did she put her daughter in a mental hospital or have her on meds? That increases the risk of suicide by 44 times. We have affidavits and scientific literature on this website:

Plus info on

Unfortunately mental health treatment kills. Instead parents should learn not to meddle. If a suicide truly will occur, it was meant to be sort of like a person dying from cancer, even if the onset of mental illness was linked to trauma/rape/neglect/abuse (once a person is ruined from past life you can't undo the damage- the solution is prevention and fixing our environments, which mental health providers/NAMI/government don't focus on, just to help everyone out so as to prevent some trauma and suicides from occurring, including by limiting mutilative violence inducing trauma inducing mental health treatments).

Also learn that the industry produces frivolous pseudoscience. A diagnosis doesn't actually help because the industry is a fraud, and is a label appllied only to sell dangerous and worthless treatments and services that don't protect, work or heal (this is the fault of the medical model- meds/ECT/brain damage/trauma infliction is how they make money).

DEC, 10, 2016 09:50:48 PM
Your work on behalf of and in honor and memory of your precious daughter is wonderful--meaning a lot to you AND to all you have helped and are helping. My daughter has had a similar journey with some horrific failures of those who were supposed to be mental health professionals. I know the despair and overwhelming enormity of it all and especially all the different diagnoses my daughter has had---ultimately they (mental health professionals) are simply just people with initials after their name; they all have opinions; and the only thing that really counts is performance.....if they perform and achieve something positive for her. i hope to read your book. God bless you and your husband.

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