Parents of Mentally Ill Children Have a Long and Difficult Journey

August 19, 2010 Angela McClanahan


Being the parent of a mentally ill child is painfully tough. Can you ever come to terms with your child's mental illness, the expenses, and facing the stigma?

I’ve long been a fan of the Rudyard Kipling poem, “If.”

If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

I can relate to this verse. I’m sure all parents of mentally ill children can. Often the greatest challenge we face is not going stark raving mad ourselves.
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you…
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting…
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…

Being the parent of a bipolar child has not made me popular. My child has been passed over for parties and had his own invitations declined. Other parents who only know my child by the stories they hear from their own kids are quick to label him as a bad seed. And if he’s a bad seed, surely he must come from bad parents.

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same...

We all have high hopes for our kids. When your child is diagnosed with a mental illness, it’s hard to come to terms with the impact of the diagnosis on those hopes. Should you continue to worry about paying for college, or just focus on getting him through high school?

If you can …watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools...

Undoubtedly, the hardest part of parenting any child is the hurt we suffer when they suffer. Our children tend to suffer more, and there are few (if any) rewards to soothe their suffering.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss...

I try not to think of all the prescriptions I’ve filled in the past five years. Particularly the ones I refill—at full market price—only to have the psychiatrist a day later agree they are not working and here, try this instead, and no, it’s not available as a generic. And it may not work either. But let’s hope for the best.

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you...

People fear what they don’t understand. Many people don’t understand mental illness. Some of them are closer than you think—friends and family members you never expected to do or say hurtful things.

helpingKipling’s words paint a disheartening portrait of the world—not unlike the world we face daily as parents. But at the end, he offers this as inspiration—if you can survive all this adversity,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it

Which perfectly describes those moments when we are proud of our kids…when we feel like we’re doing right by them…when we haven’t lost our temper or cried in front of them…you know, the good days.

I wish all of us more of those.

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2010, August 19). Parents of Mentally Ill Children Have a Long and Difficult Journey, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

No super mom here
December, 16 2010 at 6:06 am

Carol, I hear you. This is an old post, but I just found this site by Googling..."mentally ill son (29) can't live with me anymore". I have had it. He's bi-polar with a personality change disorder and obsessive compulsive on top of that. He's attacked me and his brothers and sisters, can be very verbally abusive, and this may sound cruel but I think he picks and chooses when to blame his illness on his behavior. He's back out of yet another "facility/behavior hospital" and yes, he too knows the system. I refuse to let him come destroy my life again. Again, it may sound cruel but this would be the something like the 10th time I've let this happen. I wish him well, and I don't hate him, but I have to use tough love or he'll destroy me.

November, 3 2010 at 8:00 am

I don't know if anyone will see this since this was started in August, but this week is a bad week. I have a 41 year old son who is bi-polar. He is currently in a Manic state and everything is my fault (according to him). Every time he does this it ends up costing me around $2,000 to clean up the mess he's left behind, to help him with housing because he got kicked out of the last place he was living in and the list goes on and on. In this state he of course has absolutely no reasoning power. He hasn't called me since last night because I got very upset when he broke my van door when loading some stuff in it. And of course the door breaking is also somehow my fault. I am looking at retirement soon (anyway I hope to retire). I will not be able to continue to bail him out financially in the very near future. What do other parents do in this situation. And Nancy is so right when she says the mental health system sucks. It would really be helpful if I could just call someone when he is having an eposide and he could be hospitallized until he is rational again, but no he has to turn himself in? How does that make since when he his mind is totally outer space right now. So the next solution is that he continues to decline until he gets in trouble with the Law? That has happened more than a few times. He did give me the key to my house yesterday telling me he needed to because he knew he was in the wrong frame of mind and he didn't want to have access to my house since he might go so far as to hurt me and my husband. He has never physically hurt me in all these years but has threatened too in the past. I guess in some ways I'm lucky because he has long periods of what seems to be normal. Usually the episodes are a couple of years apart. This one came on within 9 months. I'm tired, stressed and still have to go to work and try and act as if my life is normal. When all I want to do is sit down and cry......

October, 30 2010 at 8:48 am

We to adopted a 14 year old girl and she turned 18 in a mental health hospital. On her 18th they turned her out onto the streets. We brought her home even though she confessed in the hospital to wanting to harm our other children. We worried the whole time and monitored 24/7. It was a nightmare! She walked out after two weeks, mad at us for some injustice. She has been in homeless shelters, couch surfing and refusing treatment for the last 2 years. She is now 20 and wants to come home. Not sure what we will do. I want to help her but I'm unsure whether she will follow through. The mental health system sucks! I begged and pleded for help and NOTHING was offered. I'm comforted to read these posts and know I'm not alone.

October, 29 2010 at 1:18 am

I love the poem. My daughter is 26 years old with bipolar and Post Traumatic Stress and i almost lost her again this past month. She has been in systems that did not help and not being able to get her medication that is why I had her fill out a full power of attorney to me even for her mental so that I can help her. It is the closest to taking guardian. I'm tired of society thinking I'm to blame when it has been the system that let us down.

October, 7 2010 at 9:06 am

I have a mentally ill 13 year old daughter (anorexia, self-harm, overdosing, panic attacks). She ran away to her elder sister's house in June while I was asleep. I have been unable to get her back because my eldest, her partner, the medical authorities etc have put up all sorts of barriers (like 'forgetting' to organise family therapy and putting out misinformation about me behind my back). Has anyone else had this experience? I am truly not a bad parent. Her problems started when her father died two years ago. Her reason for leaving was that I was trying to help her, when all she wanted was to die. Does anyone else have this experience?

October, 5 2010 at 8:46 am

Thanks for the poem, I need it. As others here, my middle son is mentally ill and medication doesn't affect. We're at ADHD, conduct disorder and I think schizophrenia is around the corner. He's 12, in CA he's too young for everything.
We were denied IEP last year so I moved to better district. I'm rushing them, they don't feel in a hurry and his teachers can't handle him anymore so the suspensions will start now.
Single mom, 3 boys - oldest is medically stable but bipolar, youngest got dyslexia. My ex's family has all this stuff in it, I'm from a mostly calm, normal family and this poem is me. I have to fight to maintain my sanity.
I don't know how I haven't gotten to feeling like I hate him for all he's done, but I don't. I feel sorry for him, he can't like this. And I have to parent him so differently than his brothers, his freedom is nothing, his room is bare, his life must feel awful.
I feel for all parents because we get labelled bad parents. But I've got two kids out of 3 who do actually fantastic with behavior and have learned my morals and are good kids. My middle son, he has it in him too to be sweet and kind - but he can turn it off. Thats the scary part :(
Thanks for the poem. I've been considering blogging myself but no time!!

September, 25 2010 at 10:05 pm

I'm embarrassed and ashamed to put this in print, but I came home tonight hating my 13 year old son. He''s very ill, but I've taken so many verbal and emotional beatings. All my life energy and every last shred of strength and will has gone in to trying to help him, help him to be happy, and he continues to hate me and his 10 year old sister, who loves him dearly. Everything I and anyone else has tried to do has been sabataged, as if he is too ill to want to take himself out of the miserable hell of his life. I'm worried my husband will be in an early grave also giving his life energy to him. Myself and the entire community dance to his tune, and he can never be happy, only miserable.
I came home tonight thinking of myself as only have one child. We can't go anywhere nor can we have anyone over. We live in a divided household - my husband caring for our son, myself for my daughter, as well as we can in this nazi prison-like camp I thought was our home. My son, constantly hurling insults, delusions at my 10 year old daughter and I, how we've tried to kill him, knock him unconscious etc.
I long for the day I am no longer legally responsible for him, but my husband could never leave his ill son - to choose between his ill son or his wife and daughter - what a dilemma I hope he will never have to go through. When my son turns 18/19, I will no longer be willing to live in this torturous life. I'm 47 1/2, my husband and I have been together over 30 years. In that context, 5 - 6 years will be here sooner than I know it. I want so much for my son to stop hating me and let me make him a part of our lives. I've given up my physcial and mental health for him - we all have and suffer through this torture coming from my son's tortured mind. I suffer bipolar depression, and it won't get better under these conditions.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 23 2018 at 6:05 am

I thought I was alone but I guess, Im not. I have a 24 year old Sm who has a Traumatic brain Injury that occured when he was 17 and jumped out of a moving car to end his life. I am his sole caregiver but day by day I am finding it more difficult than I EVER imagined. He went off of his medications and over the last month been put on a Police Hold, Hospital Hold etc.because he is a threat to himself and others. Everything is my Fault. Now he is self medicating with drugs of his choice meth, Oxys. whatever he can get his hands on. My Daughter 27 lost her home, daughter, everything because of him. Shes now at home trying to help me take care of him but he has taken this way out of context and now threatens to kill her and leaves if I dont make her leave. I am going insane here. I no longer feel as if I have any minuet minute of the day to take care of myself. Mental Illness is in our Family we all have it but we dont even have a second to think of ourselves if we do then his issues are more severe than ours. We have been tortured, abused, our lives threatened but when I take him to the hospital they cannot hold him because he never carried out any of his threats!! WHAT?????????? I just dont get why I cant get him help.

October, 30 2018 at 7:33 pm

This is so hard, Jewel. I'm sorry that he suffers, and that the family seems to have so little support. I don't know where you live, but I always encourage people to look into county resources. Call up adult mental health services in your area (you can just Google things like "(your county) adult mental health services") and see if there are any resources you haven't been able to access yet. He really sounds so severe that I'm sure there are residential treatment programs or other options available to help take some of the load off you and your daughter. You can always try and see if they have resources listed in your area. I hope you're able to find support!

September, 20 2010 at 5:46 pm

Thank you for your words...the crulety and suffering , no words exist to accuratly discribe it ones heart breaking , then the isolation and no f ing answers nor solutions
at best a diagnosis...schizoaffectiv, ocp ocd bpd...then what...
Im a single mother of a 24 year old son with mental illness physical illness addiction and one arrest..With no other family, just me him and my daughter..
I cry , taking comfert in that Im not suffering alone... Thank you

September, 15 2010 at 11:58 pm

Hello , what can I do ? My older son is 19 And living back at home .
He is ADHD and conduct disorder . No medical insurance now .
He is worse than ever . Searing the f word .he. Has been aressted
many times underage. My 16 year old is suicidAl and was hospitalized
6 months ago. He is bullied all the time from older brother.
We need to kick him out. How? HD just won't leave . It is
a nightmare almost everyday. Ihate it I hate it

September, 11 2010 at 5:07 am

Hi Angela,
I'm sorry for your pain.
This is the first place ever where I've seen my own thoughts laid out in print. I live in British Columbia, Canada and have been given all the services. My 13 year old son is given to the doctors and experts who deal with the most challenging and complex patients. I work as a psychiatric nurse, kids as young as 17 are sent to my adult ward, no longer considered a child. Their dedicated, tearful families come in, frantic, alone and lost just as we all are.
Finally last week my son had moved on to high school (special needs). An end to the 8 years of watching him at the school across the street from my house, watching him wander around the school yard by himself, no friends because he is too different. I no longer have to witness his pain during the day - it has moved farther away down the street, and the school may no longer be a source of extreme heartbreak for me.
But my son continues to use his 10 year old sister and I as his whipping boys. He is too cognitively impaired and mentally ill for behaviour therapy. His Dad is exhausted from being his primary caregiver.
He went after his sister yesterday in a physically threatening manner. He is of non-violent nature, so at least he didn't make contact, but his little sister couldn't sleep because everytime she closed her eyes she saw him lunging at her. He was upset because he couldn't find his lunch money and accused her of stealing it (again) - she is too frightened to go anywhere near him.
It has been suggested that I start a support group for parents such as myself. But I am too ill myself from this trauma at home and trying to help this family hold it together.

September, 2 2010 at 1:08 pm

I LOVED this blog. This echos what I've felt for years now in working with, living through, and dealing with my daughter's depression. Thank you.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Angela McClanahan
September, 2 2010 at 2:07 pm

Thank you, Sara. I wish none of us could relate to any of this, but I suppose it's at least a comfort to know there are others out there...

August, 20 2010 at 7:36 am

Thanks Roberta,
It helps knowing there are others out there. I'm sorry you have these challenges too. Does your daughter still live at home? If not, when did she leave? I'm coming to realize we will just have to set up her living situation (provide the caregiver, rent the lodging) etc and hope she can keep it together. She can't come home. She is too much of a danger. I grapple with balance every day. Astounding that there is such a black hole for adequate transitional services for this age group.

Roberta Ward
August, 19 2010 at 3:20 pm

Wow. I like this. I have a severely mentally ill daughter. She is almost 22. She has been in and out of multiple facilities since she was 14. It has been hell for me and certainly hell for her. I truly wish I had never admitted her to the first place. She knows the system, knows how to stay in the hospitals, and has been very institutionalized. All doctors have "known whats best" even if they are doing something different than the last doctor who "knows whats best." At this point I try and stay as far away from any facility as possible, only getting involved if my daughter has already tried her own solutions. Therefore, by the time I get involved, I am yelling at another doctor and crying yet again. They all think I am crazy I am sure. Actually I am a highly functioning person; the one they do not see. I try not to be codependent, not to allow myself to be manipulated, but I know my daughter differently than all the docs who focus on what is bad not what is good. A couple of the doctors have been good. Most do not know alot about endocrine disorders or anything else but throwing medication at her, which hasn't been alot of help. I try not to let my resentments get the best of me. I have friends who I can vent at. I try to love the other kids and not just focus on the sick one (or two, actually as my step son is in treatment). Being the parent of a chronically ill child has its own set of illnesses. Prayers and good thoughts to all of you who suffer with your children. It is very frustrating. Don't forget to do good things for yourself. And don't let them get you down.

August, 19 2010 at 1:12 pm

We have a severely mentally ill 17 year old adopted daughter that has been in a theraputic facility for a year. We can't bring her home (she's a danger to herself and to us). She can no longer stay at the facility she's at. We've managed to keep her out of the criminal system-barely. And so far she has no drug additions. Both will probably change as soon as she leaves the facility she's in. There are NO decent housing resources out there for young adults with mental illness. I have no idea what we are going to do and am horrified that no matter what we do the future is going to be a disaster. Not the scenario I invisioned when we decided to parent.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 19 2019 at 7:09 pm

I have a 15 yr old step daughter. Smoking dope cigarettes running around with a 19 yr old boy stealing money lying. Now she likes to bounce me off walls and throw punches at me and her mother. Destroying the house smashing things. Slicing her wrists when she is caught doing things. She has been evaluated a dozen times. Been charged with domestic violence twice. The first time was hitting her grandmother. I am a healthy 48 yr old truck driver. I am 230 lbs. This girl can bounce me off walls and put me to the ground. We are definitely affraid of her to what she will do next. We have 3 younger children in the house. Children services finally took custody of her and she is in foster care. She always wants to fall victim. Other Kids are honor roll students. We have fun in anything they wanna do on the weekends. Sled riding. riding all the 4 wheelers. Going to Niagra falls taking them out to breakfast or lunch or dinner. Taking the 2 younger girls to get hair or nails done while wife works the weekend. We are very good parents. We have to protect the other kids. We got court again end of March. We love the older daughter but she will not come back . Stay strong!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 13 2019 at 2:19 pm

hi anne, I stumbled onto your comment about your adopted daughter. We have a 25 yr old adopted daughter and it is a nightmare. We are searching for some sort of housing for her, but so far we are not having any luck. I would love to hear what you all ended up doing... we simply can not do this anymore. Its exhausting.
best wishes, Nikki
918 946 7739

Angela McClanahan
August, 19 2010 at 5:12 am

Nance, I know there's such a blog on Healthy Place - - you might want to check it out. I can completely relate to your comment of "anger and anxiety makes it hard for me to be supportive." But I disagree that her lack of progress is your fault. We do what we can. We're not perfect. And at some point, the responsibility for her health (mental AND physical) is going to be hers alone. Just as my son's will eventally be his. Hang in there, please get some kind of help (even if it's just a friend to vent to) and don't blame yourself.

August, 19 2010 at 4:53 am

As a mom with a daughter who has an eating disorder, I feel like I'm losing it. Her anger and anxiety makes it hard for me to be supportive. We fight all the time and her lack of progress is totally my fault. She is in treatment but I feel like I should be getting some help too. I'll be much better at helping and supporting her if I knew how to handle my own sadness over all of this. Are there any blog sites specifically for parents of kids with eating disorders?

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