When it comes to caring for teens who are learning to navigate mental illness, I have found that very little practical advice is available. It is easy to find information about specific diagnoses, but what they really look like in the home, is missing.
In September of 2018, my son spent a week in a mental health center, after having a psychotic break of sorts, during which he fractured my elbow. We started with a visit to his therapist, who helped determine his needs. Next was the local emergency room and being chemically restrained twice. It was heartbreaking to watch. After a night in the emergency room, he was transported by a sheriff, to a mental health hospital three hours away. I had to drive there to visit him, and meet with doctors. The doctors were able to detox him from medication that obviously hadn’t worked, and start him on a medication which they thought would work better. At the end of the stay, there is the question of what to do.
There are facilities to help kids with mental health needs, to have inpatient care. While this may be a workable alternative for some, it can be expensive. The facilities stay full, and for us, the nearest such facility was two hours away.
The other alternative is outpatient care while living at home. We set up weekly appointments with the therapist, and twice a month appointments with a psychiatric practitioner. We opted for homeschooling around this time. The truth is, public schools don’t really work too well with students who have to be out of school once or twice a week for therapy. There were no local therapists who could work with him after his breakdown. His local therapist felt that his needs were beyond her skill set. The therapist we found, was in the next town. We tried to continue with public school, but attendance was a problem, as the school would not accept a letter from his therapist, indicating the weekly therapy and twice a month psychiatric checks. My son was also getting farther and farther behind, with teachers not having time to keep us informed of assignments. It was a year of online textbooks as well, and most of the time, there was some special code or password needed, that my son didn’t have.
It was apparent that teen son was not going to be able to function as a productive member of the family. I was going to have to adjust my expectations and let go of some things in order to support teen son as he worked through therapy and medication adjustments. I don’t know if I did things right or not. I thought about what his days would have been like in a behavioral health facility. He would have three meals a day, some school lessons (which he probably wouldn’t do), and therapy. Well, I had to go to work everyday, so he was home with the grandparents. I taught him how to make his own breakfast and lunch, and set up lessons for him to do. In the evenings, we would do some school work together.
Over a year has passed now. The progress has seemed slow, but steady. I had to shift my own paradigm from one of expecting him to be “typical”, to one of accepting him for who he is. We have had to set goals and find strengths and interests. He does stay in his room most of the time. He joins in family activities if he knows ahead of time that it is coming. He goes to music lessons and therapy. He has friends he talks to about many different things. He has found and explored some areas of interest, and started volunteering at the animal shelter.
I admit, it hurts to think that the dad does not support him where he is. The dad has the idea that teen son is playing games on his phone all day, everyday. This is far from what he is doing. Teen son and I have had some great conversations about technology and how he uses it. His gifted mind takes him down many a rabbit hole. We have open conversations about addiction to technology. It is a reality for many kids in his generation, and something he will face.