Change Can Be Beneficial

About six months ago, my family had an opportunity to make a change in our lives. During one of the many conversations about our future, my wife and I suddenly looked at each other realizing for the first time in many years we were ready to make a bold decision. The stars had aligned almost perfectly, which we all know is almost unheard of. In the past, every move we had ever made was based on necessity. Military relocation, job requirement, family emergency, or need for stability were always the determining factors of where we lived. We decided this time we were in control of our journey! Yikes!


In a previous blog, I mentioned change is a difficult thing for children with mental health issues. So why would we want to upset the constant or normal routine our children are used to? Great question! Which is one of the reasons I have not blogged in awhile. I wanted to be better equipped to answer that question, because honestly we were shooting from the hip, and working off of a theory. (Queue the laughter and snorts from the peanut gallery!)

So here was our theory in a nutshell: If our family is not stable in the current environment, and everywhere reminds us of negative experiences; then a new environment will allow for a fresh, positive perspective leading to growth and stability. Sounds good in theory, right? Only way to prove our theory was to test it. We sat our boys down making a list of pros and cons, so they knew they were part of the decision and process. Amazingly, they were on board almost immediately for the same reason. So together we took that giant leap of faith into a great big pool of unknown. We opened the map of the United States, and with just a few basic requirements chose a state clear across the country. Minus the steal part of the old adage “beg, borrow, or steal”, we accomplished our move. I will not bore you with the details of said move which was comprised of 8 people, 3 vehicles, 2 dogs, and 2 cats. (Soft crying can be heard in the background.)

Fast forward six months, I wish we had done this sooner! I can happily say we have not had one rage since moving. We went from multiple rages a day, and living on eggshells, to the normal moan of a disgruntled teenager taking out the trash or getting ready for school. Seriously, simple things like that could and would cause a huge melt down or rage. I don’t believe in perfection, because in my humble opinion there is no such thing. On the other hand, the calm stability we have experienced since we removed the negative stigma our last location represented is close to perfection in my eyes.

Now I know not everyone can drop what they are doing, uproot everyone, and relocate to solve their issues. The theory above simply suggests a change in “environment”. Environment can mean so many things in relation to your child’s needs. Take an in-depth look at all aspects that affect your child’s life. So where are you and your child experiencing the most set backs? The key is including your child’s input, and getting his/her buy in on the possible change. Here are just a couple ideas to get the discussion going. Don’t hesitate to think outside of the box!

  • School setting: brick and mortar, online, or a mesh of both (which we are currently using).
  • Are they getting enough or even too much attention? Finding the right balance between recognizing their accomplishments, and respecting their personal bubble can strengthen the trust and bond your family shares.
  • Boredom! Connect with interest groups in your area to explore new and current interests for your child. Social media and mobile device apps have made discovering groups and people with your same interests so much easier. (Disclaimer: Be cautious when sharing your information with anyone you don’t know. For your safety, only meet in public areas.)

We know very well how our children struggle with expressing what they need. Even though we think we are the child whisperer for our children, obviously they know themselves the best. It is our responsibility to learn how to trust their instincts, no matter how much our inner parent screams and rebels.

Mental Health: Help Fight the Stigma


My wife and I had a great opportunity to tell one of our many unfortunate experiences of mental health stigma as panel members of the Mental Health Family Advisory Council (MHFAC) at a Pediatric Mental Health Institute (PMHI) Grand Rounds conference at Denver Children’s Hospital.  This wonderful, dedicated group of Children’s Hospital faculty, staff, and parent advisors presented Mental Health Stigma: The Family Perspective to a mixed audience of medical and mental health professionals.  This presentation provided an opportunity for the MHFAC to highlight a few of the myths and truths of mental health, as well as, discuss solutions we as individuals, as a group, and even as a community could implement to change the conversation.

What truly amazed me was the response we received after our presentation.  The flood of sincere appreciation for the families and individuals that shared their difficult and heartbreaking stories was encouraging and validating.  How those stories touched them, opened their eyes, and for my wife and I, inspired one person to share her story with us.  I felt privileged that we had touched another human being enough for them to share such an intimate part of their life with us.

So how do we fight the stigma of mental health?  How can you be a champion for change?  My opinion is the greatest weapon against the negative cogitations is talking about mental health.  One of the questions that arose during the discussion period was, “What language do you suggest to use? For example should we say mental illness, health, disorder, disabled, etc.?”  It was a great question because there are so many phrases and words to describe someone struggling with mental health issues.  So many of the words used over the years have been negative, derogatory, and emotionally-charged leading to an unhealthy image; ultimately making it that much more difficult to talk about and get help.

via 9th Airforce

The consensus from the discussion of the question was that, although there was not an absolute right answer, using positive wording would provide a better platform to discuss the topic.  Phrases like mental health and mental strength; factual names like depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), etc., would be more widely accepted and inspire confidence to seek treatment.  No matter what phrase or wording we use, we cannot wait to discuss this topic with those around us.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States.  Suicide is the second leading cause in children and young adults ages 10-34.  Right now due to the tragic suicide of a celebrity, talking about mental health is forefront in the news.  We, as a society, must continue this discussion all the way to our legislators demanding legislation and funding towards mental health education and awareness.  Mental Health First Aid training should be as common as Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Some of the other solutions suggested and discussed at the conference were:

  • Talk openly about mental health
  • Educate yourself and others
  • Be conscious of language
  • Encourage equality between physical and mental illness
  • Show compassion for those with mental illness
  • Choose empowerment over shame
  • Be honest about treatment
  • Don’t harbor self-stigma

Being willing to talk about the subject of mental health, whether it affects you personally or not, is such an important step towards breaking the stigma and affecting change.  Sharing a post, an event, or making a positive comment about mental health might reach a friend, co-worker or family member needing a small sign to encourage them to seek out help.  Everyone should be proud of who they are physically, mentally, and spiritually.

A New Diagnosis; A New Way of Treatment

There has been a whirlwind of activity over the last couple months which have made it difficult for me to sit down, relax, and blog.  The most important update is our youngest has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), after a long excruciating wait to get him in to be re-evaluated.  We have felt he has been on the spectrum for years, but due to the requirements for the diagnosis, he has never met the criteria.  Over the last few years, we have had several mental health professionals ask us if he was on the spectrum after talking with him.  They were all surprised to find out he was not.  Luckily, with the recent changes to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), requirements to meet the criteria for ASD changed.

Question Mark Gif
GIF via GIFImage

So, what does this mean?  Honestly, we are still not 100% sure how this change will affect him.  Obviously, it opens more doors and services, which will ultimately further the treatment for his mental health condition. What those are has still yet to be determined.  This also means his mental health providers can experiment with new and different avenues of treatments.

I have always found the lack of parity between mental and physical health to be a major issue and a constant frustration.  It never occurred to me there could be such a difference between the services available for autism and other mental health issues.  I was recently given the opportunity to submit a question for an upcoming Gubernatorial Forum for the candidates.  Here is the question I submitted.  If elected, how do you intend to bridge the gap in parity between mental and physical health services? For example, the substantial shortage of beds available in facilities state wide to treat the increasing number of mental health patients.  I don’t know if it will be selected, but I feel it is important to address this concerning topic.

Either way, we get to travel down a new branch in our path to find treatment and relief for our son’s mental health condition.  Although we have found a new optimism, change is always a bit unnerving and challenging.




Judgement: Real or Perceived

I recently had the opportunity to speak, alongside my fellow Mental Health Family Advisory Council (MHFAC) members, to the Pediatric Mental Health Institute (PMHI) providers and staff about a few topics.  We wanted to provide some insight to the front line individuals on some of the struggles families have experienced over the years during a mental health crisis, as well as inpatient and outpatient care.  I am not very comfortable with public speaking, and easily get tongue tied attempting to get my point across, even with the notes staring me dead in my face.  I don’t feel I did the topic justice in the meeting, so I felt like taking another stab at it here.

Judgemental Dog
via Imgflip

The topic I was tasked with was the feeling of be judged by the professionals and care team when seeking help for your child.  Judgement is a very common feeling experienced at some time in everyone’s life.  How you dress, what you drive, the type of music you listen to, or even your faith.  As a parent you are already on edge, feel at a loss, and helpless when your child is struggling with any type of problem we cannot solve.  We already blame ourselves, the last thing we want to do is sense the same feelings and energy from the professionals we have put our hope in.

Let me paint a picture for you.  Several years ago, my wife and I had exhausted all treatments and efforts provided by our son’s team at the time.  Our son had been suspended, or removed by his school for violent episodes.  He was becoming increasingly more violent in the home toward his mother and sibling.  The therapist recommended our family’s case be reviewed as a difficult case study by a group of mental health professionals both local and visiting.  We were told we would be asked about our child’s treatment and medications, and his mental health history.  Afterwards, we would be given a detailed report of findings and suggested avenues to try next.  He even suggested we bring both our children since there was major concern with sibling interaction.  He in no way prepared us for what we had in store.

We were paraded into a large conference room filled with forty plus mental health professionals.  We were instructed to sit in chairs next to each other facing the crowd.  I know I felt like I was on a stage, open and vulnerable, put on display for this group to dissect.  I could tell by the nervous fidgeting of my family next to me, I was not the only one feeling uncomfortable.  My son’s Therapist stood up in front of the group and began detailing every piece of information we had shared about our son and his issues.  There was no emotion in the telling, just cold, hard facts.  He displayed a total lack of empathy in our troubles and how we had arrived at this destination in our journey.  It was almost as if we were being described as a shiny new toy with a serious design flaw.

I watched the crowd as he droned on, noting the stares reflecting back at me and my family.  The nods of agreement during his assessment felt like nails being hammered into my skull, reminding me of every imagined mistake, real or otherwise, I may have made while raising my children.  Every shake of a head in what appeared to be disapproval, chipped at my own self-confidence and self-worth.  Then began the rapid fire questions, which my wife, unlike me, handled like a pro!  Those questions were probing and personal about not just my son, but of all of us.  Suddenly, I was asked about my childhood, and traumas I may have experienced.  Sure there were traumas and difficulties in my past, but I wasn’t ready to discuss those with all these people, let alone in front of my children.  I immediately became defensive, which I knew logically wasn’t helping anyone.  How dare they pry into my past!  Did they really think anything that may have happened in my past was to blame for how my child’s mind worked?!  I began to squirm under the judging eyes staring back at me.  I couldn’t take it anymore, and I am ashamed to admit it, I abandoned my family by fleeing those piercing eyes.

The session was stopped, and we ultimately gained little from the experience.  Would the group have been more successful had we all been properly prepared for what was going to happen?  I don’t really know for sure.  Would we all be more comfortable had we been shown more compassion and empathy?  I know it would have made a difference.  I personally wouldn’t have felt as judged by those in attendance if understanding and consideration had been conveyed in any way.

Was I really being judged?  Again I don’t really know.  What I do know is feeling that way was not going to help the process.  So, whose responsibility is it to change the perception?  The answer is everyone.  The professionals need to look at every case with fresh eyes, give the benefit of the doubt to each person, and provide empathy and understanding as much as possible.  Just as important, parents and patients must be open-minded, and not allow judgments, real or perceived, to interfere with their care and road to successful recovery.

New Year’s Resolution

I’m a little late with this, but Happy New Year everyone!

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It’s that time again, where we make resolutions to be better versions of ourselves.  Where we resolve to shave off those pesky, unrelenting pounds, to stick to a budget and save more, or maybe be kinder and more generous.  Some people are able to achieve the goal they set for themselves, but most of us fall short of the objective.

I am bit of a realist versus a traditionalist.  I prefer to set realistic and achievable resolutions and goals.  Now, I am not saying the list above is not attainable.  Life happens though, finding a way to drive our best laid intentions in a different direction.  We need to set the bar just high enough that it takes work to reach, but not too high the frustration of speed bumps stop us from even trying.

This is especially true when helping our children set goals for mental health treatment and coping.  Expecting a complete, 100% change in behavior or condition is a recipe for disaster.  Instead let’s concentrate on smaller, acceptable expectations.  For example:

  • Using coping skills to handle stressful or overwhelming situations.  Reducing the number of distracting and violent outbursts.
  • Handling each situation at the lowest possible level.  This is vague enough to allow interpretation to benefit your child.  Each situation has its own lowest level of resolution.  Some may be handled with a simple redirection.  Others may require the lowest level involve a professional.  Your good judgement, patience, and ability to stay positive will impact the success or failure of this goal.
  • Creating a schedule or routine to help manage each family member’s expectations.  I know first-hand how frustrating and difficult schedules can be to follow or adhere to.  However, I have learned managing both yours and your child’s expectations can greatly lower anxiety and stress.

Be imaginative!  Get your family involved and find ways to make it fun.  Reinforce progress on the goals through both praise and rewards.  Keep rewards simple though:

  • Spending time together as a family with game or movie nights.
  • Gift cards – Small dollar amounts for google play, amazon, Fandango, etc.
  • Taking part in your child’s interests and hobbies.

Good luck!  Feel free to share your resolutions, goals, and thoughts.  Your inspiration could be someone’s life line.

Celebrate Your Child’s Successes

I have mentioned in previous blogs how children with mental health issues struggle with low self esteem and lack of motivation.  Many depressed and anxious children focus primarily on their perceived failures than anything else.  That is partly our fault as parents and caregivers.  What I mean by that is sometimes we get caught up in what is going wrong, that we unintentionally overlook the many small successes and growth achievements our children do make.  We owe it to them to do better!

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Via Giphy

What is a success?  The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines success as a favorable or desired outcome.  This could be a self goal, some sort of achievement, or even an event in a person’s life.  One could measure it as small as getting out of bed in the morning or as monumental as receiving a one year sobriety chip.  We set the standard of what success looks like for our family and ourselves.

Maybe by changing the tone of the conversation, we can help our children feel better about themselves.  This can be as simple as recognizing good behaviors, like table manners, using an indoor voice, waiting patiently, etc.  Also, you can recognize behaviors not displayed, for example not yelling, not interrupting, not pushing, etc.  Obviously, we have to address the poor choices and undesired behavior our children express.  But with a little extra forethought on our part, we can find a way to balance it out without making them feel unwanted or insecure.

I want to share a huge success in the amazing growth of our oldest.  Just over a year ago, he was drowning in depression, self-loathing, and hatred toward everyone and everything.  He was overwhelmed by his emotions, school, and the effects his brother’s mental health problems had on our family.  He had to be hospitalized, and we were at a loss not knowing how to help him.

Over the next year, we worked with his therapist and Psychiatrist to adjust his treatment plan.  We helped him setup reasonable and achievable goals that he could feel invested in.  He and his brother were able to join a wonderful vocational training program called TwoCor, where he has learned so many skills and thrived.  He actually has a plan for the future, and is excited about it!  He recently passed the first part of the four part GED, and tested ready for the second part.  He volunteers at the local puppy mill rescue foundation, and has leads on intern opportunities.  He offers to help his mom and I around the house more often than we have ever seen in the past.  We couldn’t be any more proud of the amazing progress he has made!

Is everything perfect?  No, of course not.  He still has bouts of depression, anxiety, and anger.  He is still a teenager (enough said right!).  The difference is he has accepted he has mental health issues, and will not let them dictate what his life should look like.  I am extremely proud of the man he has become; and will continue to celebrate the many successes yet to come in his life.

Mental Health Crisis: The Cycle of our Lives (Part 3)

After the Crisis

There are so many possible outcomes after the crisis is over, that it would be impossible for me to cover them all in detail in just one blog.  So instead, I will briefly outline some likely scenarios: favorable and others not so much.  No matter what final decision is made in the Emergency Department (ED), make sure your child’s Therapist and Psychiatrist are aware of the situation and kept informed.  An open and honest avenue of communication with these professionals will make the follow up treatment so much easier.

Photo by Cordell and Cordell

Prior to being discharged from the ED, a safety and treatment plan will need to be created.  The complexity of the plan will depend significantly on what your child needs, once the most severe symptoms are treated.  I will discuss a few that my family has experienced over the years, from the least intrusive to the most restrictive.

  1. Homeward Bound:  The simplest and most common outcome has been that our child was discharged with a safety plan in place requiring additional parental supervision and a follow up appointment with his Psychiatrist.  In most cases, a medication evaluation is recommended.  You may find yourself frustrated by spending so much time waiting in the ED for this outcome, but I remind you of the possible tragic consequence if you had not sought help.
  2. Intensive Outpatient Treatment:  This is a much more intense and intrusive therapeutic option without removing the child from the home.  There are several ways this type of therapy can be provided.
    1.  In-Home Therapy –  A form of intense therapy, where more than one therapist will come to your home to provide individual and family therapy.  This usually involves 10-30 hours a week in the home with all family members.  We have had mixed results with in-home therapy. It requires a major commitment on everyone’s part, not just the child. For this to work, you must have an open mind, and be agreeable (personally, I would prefer willing or open, but it’s your decision) to change both habits and your frame of mind.
    2. Day Treatment –  A combination of school and therapy, day treatment provides an emphasis on coping skills and strategies.  This type of treatment is especially useful when a child is struggling behaviorally and emotionally in a school environment.  Day treatment can be a short term step-down service or a long term schooling alternative.
  3. Inpatient Hospitalization:  A short term out of home placement in a medical facility for supervised, controlled medication treatment and stabilization.  Now that’s a mouthful!  Again we have had some mixed results depending on the facility.  Our experience with a Children’s Hospital has always been stellar in regards to treatment and communication.
  4. Residential Facility:  One of our least favorite options.  This long term treatment is reserved for when nothing else has worked.  Residential Facilities are used in conjunction with the legal system for a few reasons.  First, the cost alone would make a person faint in astonishment.  I personally have not seen a private insurance policy willing to cover this treatment.  Second, these facilities are reserved for the last possible resort.  Despite the common misconceptions, Social Services would prefer to keep a family together.

I know this has been a lot of information to process, but keep your head up.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this 3 part op-ed, you are not alone.  There is a wealth of knowledge and support available, no matter what form it comes in.  Ask your mental health provider about local groups in your area.  Also, check out some of the helpful online groups below:

Mental Health Crisis: The Cycle of our Lives (Part 2)

The Emergency Department

For whatever reason, your child has found him/herself in a mental health crisis.  When the crisis happens, no matter where or how it started, the most common direction is to your local Emergency Department (ED).  In the remainder of this article, I will be discussing our experiences with the Children’s Hospital ED.  Although we have dealt with many EDs over the years, the Children’s ED has been one of the most comforting and helpful facilities.  Other than a few policy exceptions and facility setup, your experience hopefully will be somewhat similar.


Ultimately at this juncture in the crisis stage, the why of the matter will not be nearly as important as the when, what, and where?  Where do we go from here?  Where do we go to get help?  When will my child get the help he/she so desperately needs?  What is happening?!  Let’s take a minute to provide some answers and directions to these questions.

Where do we go from here? Where do we go to get help? My child may be suicidal, homicidal, or possibly experiencing a manic state.  Depending on the severity, you have choices.  To avoid going into too much depth lets focus on your ability to keep the lid on the pan so to speak.  The thoughts are there, but no real action has been taken.

  • You could call a crisis hotline – The hotline is there to work through the crisis with you and your family, and help you come to the safest and least restrictive method to solve the crisis. This may well be as simple as an individual or family therapy session to create a safety plan until such time as more permanent arrangements can be made.  My experience is it is more of a small band aid applied to a much larger wound.  Hotlines are great for deescalating a crisis as it occurs, but usually unable to provide the necessary follow up to avoid the crisis again in the future.  You will probably be referred back to your primary care physician and/or psychiatrist for additional treatment at a later date.
  • Visiting the ED – In most of our cases (except a few rare instances) the crisis has simmered to a bubbling boil once you arrive. It still does not change the fact that both you and your child are confused, scared, lost and possibly angry at each other or the situation.  At this point, you probably are wondering why you are even reading this, and asking yourself what is the point.  Take a second and let me redirect your attention to the breathing exercise we used earlier.  Steady, slow deep breaths, we don’t need to add hyperventilating to the list of problems.  The ED will be your first step in getting your child the much needed assistance you have been looking for.

When will my child get the help he/she so desperately needs? Great question!  Almost all of us have been to the ED for a broken arm, concussion, illness, etc.  Well the process is somewhat the same; you are seen in order of urgency as rooms become available.  The difference is there are a lot less rooms available for mental health emergencies.  We are talking about a handful of rooms if you are lucky.

What is the process once you have a room?

Hospital Image
Image by Susan Naro

  • Your child will have to change into scrubs to ensure he/she does not have anything unsafe on their person. Additionally, the doctor will perform a medical examination to determine your child does not have any bruises or injuries.
  • You will be separated from your child on more than one occasion. I know the first few times my wife and I were separated from our child during his crisis everyone’s stress and anxiety levels increased considerably.  There are a couple reasons they do this.  First, it is important for the doctors to get the perspective of the child without having their parent’s unintended influence.  Second, they need to know the child is not in an unsafe situation at home.  This may feel unnecessarily intrusive, but it really is in the best interest of the child.
  • There may only be one on-call Psychiatrist who serves several hospitals at one time. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be informed on a regular basis on what’s going on.  Don’t hesitate to ask any and all questions you think are necessary.

Here is where the wait truly begins.  Every ED room setup for a mental health emergency I have ever been in has been stripped down to the bare bones.  That means no television or entertainment!  We have also encountered EDs restricting any outside items for both the patient and parents, including cell phones for safety and privacy concerns.  The next section will come in handy if you are not limited by the ED policies.

Hopefully you are reading this before the crisis occurs so you can take advantage of some tips my wife and I have learned over the years.  The most important one being pack a “Go Bag”.  You might be asking yourself, “When did I become a soldier, doctor, or a member of ‘The Agency’?”  Well, it’s the same concept.  You need to drop everything and go, with no time to pack.  Hence, the pre-packed, grab and go bag of goodies needed for hours or even days at the ED.  No, that is not a misprint, I meant to type days.  Below are some ideas for your “Go Bag”:

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Via Giphy

  • Small games: Deck of Cards, Card games (Uno, Skip Bo, etc.), Yahtzee, and Dominos. Coloring books and crayons or markers (most EDs restrict the use of pencils or pens by the patient), crossword puzzles, and any other easy to pack fun items.
  • Fidget Toys: Stress Balls, Bubbles, Spinners, Playdoh, or any other small, easily accessed items to help calm you or your child.
  • Change of Clothes: You are going to be there awhile.  Why not be comfortable?  Some sweatpants, slippers, or whatever makes you comfortable when you are relaxing and sleeping. You might want to consider layers.
  • Toiletries: If you don’t have someone to relieve you so you can go home, being able to brush your teeth, clean up, and freshen up after a long night can make a huge impact on your mood.
  • Blanket: Hospitals are known for their warm blankets, which my wife loves!  But you may need something a bit more substantial.  Also, bringing a favorite blanket of your child’s may help reduce the anxiety he/she is feeling.
  • Water bottle and snacks: You can save a lot of money by bringing your own food and drink. Vending machines and eating out can become very costly, very quickly.  I highly recommend packing some long lasting or non-perishable snacks, like crackers, chips, dried fruit, nuts, etc.
  • Additional Ideas: Tailor the “Go Bag” towards your family’s needs and interests.  Keep in mind safety concerns (so obviously no craft items requiring scissors, needles, pins, or any other sharp tools).
  • For you: Phone chargers, books, or music. At this point it is not just your child that needs to be occupied. When your child calms down, and they will in time, they won’t need/want all your attention.  Also remember you will have to keep the bag with you whenever you leave the room, so try not to make it too heavy.

Every crisis and experience will be little different, but there are several commonalities which the items above will make the process smoother and more bearable.  When possible a little preparation and knowledge ahead of time can make all the difference in the world.

Mental Health Crisis: The Cycle of our Lives

Part 1: The Crisis

This will be a three part blog, and I apologize in advance for its length.  I really believe it will be worth it in the long run.

As I mentioned in the about section of my blog, I am a proud Army Veteran.  Although I did not serve in a combat zone, I saw my share of dangerous and stressful situations as  Military Police (MP) and a Special Agent with the Criminal Investigation Division (CID).  I honestly believe the most terrifying times of my life have been when I am faced with the unknown possibilities of one of my children’s mental health crises: the uncertainty of what they are dealing with; the unimaginable pain and torment racing through a mind that has yet to experience some of life’s many hardships.  All I want to do is pull them close, squeeze them, and tell them it will all be alright when all they want to do is scream, cry, run, break things, or even fight.  I pray that you never find yourself in a position where your child is in a manic state, a red violent haze, a suicidal depressive state, a homicidal rage, or any of the many descriptive mental health situations my family has seen.  Unfortunately, in Colorado, as in most states, the number of children struggling with these overwhelming conditions is continuing to rise.  As you will read in this piece, the number of available beds at Emergency Departments (ED), Inpatient Facilities, Residential Facilities, and other youth facilities are not increasing.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides great information on many mental illness topics, as well as getting you in contact with your local NAMI group.

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Via Giphy

If you are one of the unfortunates to join this venture, let me welcome you and your child on the roller-coaster ride that is the mental health system.  Also, let me reassure you: you are not alone in this endeavor.  Hopefully this blog, article, informational, whatever you want to call it, will help to alleviate some of the overwhelming anxiety and fear you may experience, so that you can focus on your child.  Take a few deep breaths and keep reading.  No, seriously… Close your eyes, take in a couple of calming deep breaths, tell yourself you can do this, and read on.

My wife and I have been married for just over 20 years, and both of our extremely intelligent, emotional, and inquisitive 16 and 17 year old boys struggle with mental health issues.  I would be lying if I said it gets easier, but with the right support team, group training, coping skills, follow-through, and a whole lot of patience (did I mention patience galore?), you and your child will fine tune your communication skills to be able to relay each of your needs.  We have been at it for 10+ years, and I can tell you it is still a long term goal with missteps and hiccups along the way.  I have had the pleasure of talking to many other parents who have kindly shared their children’s victory stories.  Take solace in the idea that hope is out there and it is attainable!

A mental health crisis will strike when we are least prepared, and at the worst possible time.  As parents, we want to help our children with any problem in which they may find themselves.  However, the crisis of the mind is not so easily understood, so we feel crippled as caregivers, unable to find a bandage for our ailing kids.  I am here to tell you, there are many families just like yours struggling with these same issues.  The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates “just over 20 percent (or 1 in 5) children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder.”  I bring this to your attention, not to increase your blood pressure, but to gain point out there is help and you will not have to face the challenges alone.

Help! What am I Doing Wrong?!

This is a common exclamation in the trials of parenthood.  I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself asking that question!  Have you ever just wondered why it is so darn hard?  Do you want to tell your child, “Why can’t you just understand no means no,” or “It just isn’t polite to say or do that!”  How many times must we reiterate the same thing over, and over, and, did I mention, over!


We’ve all had that embarrassing moment when your 3-or-4-year-old asks the lady in line in front of us when her baby is due.  Or my favorite, standing in an aisle in the store, and your toddler announces they just tooted!  Those require no explanation, and are easily laughed off as a child’s innocence.  “This is gross!” as they spit out the food in a restaurant where you’d spent 45 minutes to an hour waiting to get in.  But what do you say when they’re 11, or 15, and still show this same behavior?  Usually it’s a mumbled apology while you drag your offending child out as they rant and rave, the red hot glares of disapproval boring into your back as you retreat.

How about the teenager who continually makes inappropriate gestures or adjustments in public?  Who has to constantly be reminded not to run, to keep hands to themselves, or watch where they are going?  How about one who overreacts emotionally and physically to even the slightest mishap?  Parents of the world, throw your hands up in consternation!

Obviously, we know our child is not exhibiting these behaviors out of maliciousness or vulgarity.  We know we taught them how to use manners and be respectful.  Impulsive behavior is the act of doing or saying something without forethought of the consequences.  I am not saying that everyone who suffers from “foot-in-mouth syndrome” has mental health issues, but I feel it is definitely more prevalent in those who do.  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common issue where the brain exhibits symptoms of impulsivity.

In the case of one of my sons, he argues with conviction that it’s a true statement, rather than admitting that he could have possibly said anything wrong.  All the while, I am ineptly attempting to describe to him how his words or behavior made the recipient feel: to a blank, uncomprehending stare.  My youngest son recently admitted that his obsessive need to speak or do whatever comes to mind is driven by the worry that he will forget the thought just as quickly as he whipped it up.  Recognizing and accepting this point was a huge step in the growth and progress he has made over the years.

Here are some suggestions I have received over the years that may help you deal with impulsive behavior:

  • Take your child aside and calmly point out the behavior.  Keep it short and precise (I struggle with this all the time).  What did they do?  How did it affected others?  What could have been done differently?   Anything more, and you are probably going to experience a tirade of emotion.  Don’t be drawn into an argument: I know, right?  Easier said than done!
  • Provide another outlet for their impulsive urges.  Coping skills can diffuse an escalating situation.  Common skills include deep breathing techniques, fidget toys, stress balls, blowing bubbles, and exercise.
  • Actively seek out good behavior!  Ultimately, your child wants to control his or her impulsive behavior.  Acknowledging on a regular basis how well your child handled a situation is a great way to build self-esteem, as well as to encourage future positive behavior.
  • Remember that it’s important to have open communication with your child’s therapist and doctors on strategies and medications to help your child with impulsiveness.

The brain is a very interesting and complex organ, but I confess that I know very little about it.  If you are looking for a bit more information on how mental health relates to different aspects of the brain, check out this link to the website of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Do you have a story you would like to share where your child exhibited impulsive behavior?  How did you deal with it?  Please leave your thoughts and comments below.