Parents of Mentally Ill Children: “What If He Were Your Kid?”

Dr. Coleman was asked by to write a piece about the parents of Jared Loughner and other parents who have had similar kinds of struggles. Here it is:

What if he were your kid? You wouldn’t raise that kind of kid. You’d know the signs and get help. You’d have spotted it early on and gotten help for him right away. You would’ve seen the warnings and acted before it became the national tragedy that it did. Good parents don’t raise those kinds of kids.
But, what if you’re a good parent and you didn’t see the signs and you did raise that kind of kid, or at least some kid like that?
You knew something was wrong, but you didn’t know what to do. So you told yourself, it’s a phase. Lots of kids these days talk about death, have pictures of skulls, watch violent video games, take drugs and write things that they call poetry; it’s not like any poetry you’d ever read, but what do you know? You’re not a shrink. Maybe it will get better.

You’re not the Loughners, your kid hasn’t been accused of killing anyone, but something’s wrong with your kid and you don’t know what it is and you’re scared. You don’t have a lot of money or you just lost your insurance, so you took your son to the county hospital because lately, he’s been so angry all the time that you don’t know what’s wrong with him.

And the psychiatrist at the county ER tells you that he’s schizophrenic and should be on anti-psychotic medication and they’d like to keep him for two weeks on an involuntary hold.
So they keep him for two weeks on an involuntary hold, but because of the cutbacks in county mental health services, there’s no place to refer him when the hold expires, except back to you. And now that he’s on medication, he’s much calmer and no longer seems to be a threat to others. Crisis averted. Thank God for modern psychiatry.

Except that he doesn’t like the way the anti-psychotic drugs make him feel, so he goes off of them. And soon he’s back to posting angry, disturbing diatribes that don’t make a lot of sense, and this time, he refuses to go back to the hospital because he doesn’t want to be locked up.

So now you’re worried all over again. You know that you could call the police and they would come pick him up and take him back, but he’s still mad at you for hospitalizing him the first time; you can only imagine how angry he’ll be if he’s hauled back there in handcuffs.

But he ends up in handcuffs anyway, not because he’s accused of murdering someone, but because of drugs, or theft, or some other crime. And you’re almost relieved because the terrible end that you thought was coming has finally come.

But maybe your kid doesn’t end up in jail, but ends up living on the streets because he refuses to take your help — anyone’s help — and now you don’t even know where he lives. He stopped calling a long time ago when he figured you weren’t going to keep giving him money, and he refuses to talk to anyone else in the family, even his brother, whom he was once close to.

And you’d like to get support for how heartbroken and guilt-ridden you feel, but you don’t know where to get it because everyone assumes that you must have done something terribly wrong to have produced a kid who has such serious problems, or who wants nothing to do with you.And no one believes that more than you, his mother or father, even though a meek voice of protest rises up inside you to try to unsuccessfully challenge the far more powerful accusing voice.

And watching the evening news, you recognize that while you’re not the parent of a murderer, you feel an affinity for those parents far stronger than the parents of your friends with grandchildren, and children in college, or weddings to plan. You know, like they know, that for all the lousy parents in the world, good people can still create children who do terrible things, or whose lives turn out in ways they never imagined, not in their worst nightmares.

And the image of that father the morning of the shootings, asking him what was in that black bag, knowing his son well enough to know that something was wrong, reminds you of all the signs you ignored or acted on, but apparently not well enough because now, look how things have turned out for you and your kid, your baby.

And no matter how many times you tell yourself it wasn’t your fault, and however secure you are in that knowledge, it never buys you more than the briefest moment of comfort before you’re back to blaming yourself and wondering, “How could I let this happen to my own child? What kind of a parent am I?”

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  9. Lee
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    My daughter is 16. This Friday she tried to admit herself to an adult psychiatric ward as she was feeling suicidal. She had been suffering from depression, anxiety, low self esteem and disordered eating. She had found it difficult to stay at college and asked if she could go home early. They said yes because she had done well and completed her work and they could see that she was anxious. She did not tell her father as she did not want him to be cross with her. She got off the bus early and could not cross the road in the rain to get home so she phoned her Grandad. The college did not pass the message on to her father when he rang to find out where she was so he thought she had left college early on purpose and was cross with her. He told her that she was in trouble and he’d better not find her at home when she got home. So she stole some money and caught a bus to the hospital where she lives which is 60 miles away from me. I live that distance away as a year ago she went to live with him to give her a fresh start as her school relationships had broken down and she was causing havoc at home not doing as she should and fighting with her brother verbally all the time and stealing items of his. I left immediately and came up the 60 miles and collected her and bought some food and collected some of her items and stayed at my parents house. Over the weekend I could see she was not well and found out that she was hearing an audible hallucination and had done for a couple of years so I tried to get her to the doctors to get her referred to an inpatient unit for treatment. At accident and emergency they dismissed her condition as nothing to worry about just depression and anxiety and I had to get back to my son 60 miles away I was supposed to be at work on the Monday and looking after him. Her father wouldn’t talk to her and his marriage is on the rocks. His wife has said it’s either my daughter or her. My husband has left my son most days to travel up and down the motorway to be with us and return home to see to my son. This is costing us a fortune and my husband was made redundant a few weeks ago. The situation is that my daughter wants to stay in the same area as where her father and grandparents live. She doesn’t want to come home with me because she fears the school children that bullied her where we live. So after daily assessments by the mental health team after she took an overdose of anti-depressants at the weekend I now find out that she suffers from extreme mood swings and behaviour and she feels as though she has different personalities. My parents do not know yet because I am unable to contact them. Social services can’t help yet because we have to wait and they say the responsibility is with the parents. If we abandon her to make them care for her because no-one can cope because she doesn’t want to come home with me then we have been told that we can be in trouble with the courts and the police because she is barely 16. I am at a loss at the moment because I don’t know what we are dealing with yet. Luckily we have our first psychiatric appointment tomorrow with a proper doctor. If she goes back with her dad she is at risk from harming herself because of the way she feels and the same if she comes back to our house. I have a son, a job and a husband to look after. I feel stuck as I feel we are not getting help quick enough. My son who is 14 is getting anxious I have been away from him 6 nights now and he is missing me and worrying about the situation. The mental health nurse says we have to take it one step at at time. Not look to the future or to the past. I’m hoping that we get some answers soon and that I can convince my daughter to maybe come back with me and not be a risk to herself so I can get her the help she needs. She wants to stay at my parents as she says she feels safe there, they are pensioners and I don’t think it is practical considering what we have been dealing with. Completely shot at, last week our lives were okay, this week our family has just fallen apart.

    • Chris
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      Oh, your story is so much like the symptoms our 14 year old grandson is having. We are his custodians. But because of his threats, CPS stepped in and have made things AWFUL! They don’t understand mental illness, they’re stuck in the “it’s the way you raised them!” rut. They went 6 WEEKS without getting him to a counselor, they took him to the one I had arranged, then they cancelled him. We are frantic to get him help but not getting anywhere.

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    My husband and I are going through this situation and are devestated. Our daughter who is 25 just becomes increasingly more cruel as the days go by. We had a great life together, she was our only child and we never thought we would have kids. We loved that girl and did so much together the 3 of us. She was a Straight A student all through school, friendly outgoing and never had any real trouble. Not until around 19-20 she just started changing. She would start cussing us out and showed no respect. She made poor choices, eloped into marriage at 20 which lasted 4 months and then again at 21 remarried someone she only knew for a year. That is in the process of divorce and she has 2 little kids.

    She accused her father of molesting her when she was 3. She said she felt like he did it. This was devastating to both of us and more horrifying being I was molested myself as a child. My husband took a lie detector test by the top lie detector people and passed. BUT she refuses to accept it. NOW she is saying he molested the neighbor kids also! Not only does she make these accusations she TELLS EVERYONE we know. She says she sees ghosts and demons, she says she talks to people telepathically, she insists that someone broke into her house and put poison in her food, it goes on and on. She puts her kids to bed in dirty clothes, she doesn’t bathe them very often and her house is gross.

    No matter what we do, she becomes angry and says all manner of cruel things. Her latest is that we are not allowed to ever babysit our own grandchilren alone. She will let a pervert watch them alone, but not her mother or father. She says I’m psychotic and tells everyone that as well. Our lives have been turned upside down and frankly we are devastated and heartbroken because all our dreams of having grandchildren and a loving extended family are gone. I’m sure that soon we will never see them at all by the way she continually excludes us from her life.

    We don’t know what to do, we fear for the children who are 3 and 1 and we fear for her. She refuses to listen or believe anything is wrong with her. She tells eveyrone she is a genius and has now started saying she is “pansexual”? Everything seems to get worse day by day and and any advice or if there is a support group or ? We could use it – we are so lost and heart broken.

    • Marty
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      Valerie, please find the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and look at their website, This is an all volunteer organization of people like you, who can give you emotional support, advice on how to deal with things, and information about resources. For the sake of your grandchildren, you must be willing to take action. They are living in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Your daughter needs long-term treatment and medication. You may have to refer her to the child protection agency in your area. But you will need to be strong to follow through. Please just remember that she has a serious illness and she needs help, and the illness is distorting her thinking and her ability to think clearly how to help herself. The children are living in an unhealthy and dangerous situation. Please call NAMI today.

    • Anonymous
      Posted September 15, 2013 at 12:49 am | Permalink

      You are not on your own. My son who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia has said the same thing as your daughter only he says he was 11. At the moment he is in hospital under a section. He says he hates me because I gave birth to him and he blames me for being in hospital and because I told mental health he had kicked his bedroom door through. Get help for her. I know you will find it hard but you have to look at the risk your grandchildren are under. Try to keep calm around your daughter and tell her your concerned. She may sound nasty but this is because whatever illness she has is terrifying to her. Like my son she says she is not unwell but that is part of her illness. If you get her the help that she needs she will thank you in the long run. Turn to others that are going through the same kind of thing with there children and get yourself a counciler believe me it will help

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  18. Karen Fitzgerald
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    I don’t know what to think anymore. A bit of background, my oldest brother has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He is very low functioning now. I have moderate depression that is always there unless I take my meds, and I have social anxiety that I have managed to control most of the time through behavioural modification (which translates to parenting myself). I have been happily married for 17 years this May 23rd to my soul mate, and we have two daughters. We are a tight family, my husband was ignored growing up, and I was abused physically, mentally, and sexually, and so we ended up forging our family by doing the opposite of what our parents did with us. We have our 15 year old daughter who is schizophrenic, and our 14 year old daughter who is on the extreme opposite end and more normal and healthy than anyone we have ever come across.

    Our 15 year old came out with hearing voices back in January. She was in a partial hospitalization program because she cut her arms up from elbows to the second knuckle on her fingers. She did this after she was suspended from school for cussing out a teacher. We are still trying to get her meds right so that her voices can stop, and right now she is hospitalized as an inpatient after she attacked a boy that had bullied her since last year, with the voices finally telling her to attack, choke, and beat his head through a wall, before this the voices were just whispering really loud and she couldn’t make out what they were saying. We are doing everything a parent does when their child is sick, and trying desperately to get the voices calmed down, as well as to find a balance for her so that she can have a normal life. But we are going in blind, both trying to parent our kid, and trying to nurture her. It is very hard. We have no support outside of each other.

    We have always known something is wrong with her. I mean always. When she was a baby, she cried all the time. When she was barely 3 months old she was already trying to crawl and because she didn’t have the strength yet she would just scream, and if you picked her up to soothe her while she was going through this it would only make her more upset. She did the same when she was learning to walk, and then by the age of 2 and learning to color, she had to color inside the lines, but at 2 she didn’t have the coordination to do that, so she would throw a tantrum and slam her head into the floor over and over. She and her sister are 13 months apart, and yet she has never wanted to interact with her, even though you would expect these two to be close because of their age, she never wanted anything to do with her and would play in the same room but not with her. As she got older her disconnect to the people around her continued, if she couldn’t read or do her math she would throw a tantrum and throw her head into the wall over and over again, she has empathy but it is selective. She has love for me, her father, and sister, but that is about it. She makes friends and then after a week or a couple months she decides that person is terrible and she ends the friendship. She has an above average IQ, but she doesn’t want to finish anything she starts. She has depression, but its more because she is down about the voices, and down about not meeting her own expectations.

    She does not feel things that most people feel. An example is that where we may feel compassion, she doesn’t, its not because she doesn’t want to, she says she doesn’t even think about it. She said today when she had her major meltdown; of her sister, wh0 immediately came to her defense ready to kill the boy who had harassed her and given her the rope to go over the edge, that she knew she would do that, but doing that for her sister in return, would never “occur” to her. Yet, she is not a bad kid, its like she is shut off in a way that the rest of us are not, and having the voices, and the paranoia that you are being watched constantly just makes it worse.

    • Marty
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      I encourage all people with loved ones with mental illnesses to look at the website and find your local affiliate of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Families like you receive support and education about how to deal with these illnesses, which are possibly worse to deal with than cancer or diabetes. I, and many people like me, who had nowhere to turn, found help through NAMI. Most counties in the US have NAMI affiliates.

  19. Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    My 34 year old daughter has 3 children ages 9,8 and 5.Until 3 years ago she was an exemplary mother. Then a sudden change. Mood swings, lethargy, temper tantrums, poor choices, yelling and smacking the kids and all this I witnessed. The more I tried to intervene the worse she took it out on the children. I helped out as much as possible by taking the kids,keeping them overnite, helping financially and generally keeping my mouth shut when she raged irrationally at me for some misperceived slight. She’s been evicted. She lives on welfare and food stamps and doesn’t work. The boys attended an elementary school across the street from the apartment they live in last year. They were tardy 40 times and missed over 15 days of school. This year the boys attend a new school in my community ,which is 18 minutes from their apartment. This requires my daughter to get out of bed and drive the boys to school everyday in a very old,unreliable car. They are consistently 15-20 minutes late everyday. In December the kids were over for a sleepover. The boys spent three hours unsolicited telling me about the verbal abuse at home, the messy condition of the house, the car and running out of gas while driving places, no breakfast in the morning before school and how she would leave my then 4 yr old granddaughter at home sleeping everyday when she drove the boys to school. They begged to come live with me and said ‘Dad can come see us Tuesdays and Thursdays’ . And then my dear little nine year old looked up at me and said and ‘then mom can get her head together’. I believe she has an undiagnosed mental illness. I am bipolar myself. But I am diligent about seeing my psychiatrist and maintaining my medications. I have been symptom free for over 10 years. Plus my daughter was supposedly diagnosed with fibromyalgia and was perscribed vicodan. It may also be substance abuse. Anyway, it was a hard decision but with my granddaughter being left alone in the mornings and all the boys told me,plus what I’d been witnessing for 3 years I had no choice but to call Child Protective Services. The grandcchildrens’ welfare was the primary priority. My daughter would not listen to me. I cry as I write this. Because of course she has cut off all communication and I can’t have the kids at my house. I have been volunteering at the boys’ school and I see them everyday. Teachers constantly telling ‘they were late, no homework, I can’t get a hold of your daughter., she hasn’t sent supplies needed and I sent 2 notes home..etc” I just tell them to inform the guidance counselor so she can document all this. CPS I feel is doing very little to help. My heart is breaking and I know she is so irrational that she will never get help or listen to anything I may say…even an apology. Dad is of no help at all in this whole scenario. Thank you for listening out there.

    • Chrstine
      Posted March 20, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      I feel your pain. My ex-husband is untreated bipolar and my 19 y/o son has had mental health issues for a few years. Having a severely mentally ill loved one is an awful existence. My qualifiers are as bad as it gets. I do not have any answers. I too have been consumed by the problem. The only thing that helps is prayer. When I wake up during the night I say the rosary to block out the thoughts that keep me awake. I struggle to concentrate on saying the same prayers over and over and this eventually relaxes me. Sometimes I need to repeat the rosary if I am not relaxed at the end of one. I believe it is the meditative effect of forcing concentration on saying the prayer correctly and completely. So I realize this might not be for you but it was all I had to contribute. Thank you for sharing. It is a very isolating problem.

    • Posted April 17, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      I’m happy to see that I’m not the only parent lost. My story is heart breaking. My (very) bi-polar husband passed away at 52 from an apparent drug over dose. Sadly, drug abuse is common with bi-polar. I have a daughter (34) from a previous relationship that hates me for staying with my husband and having 2 more children which both have been diagnosed, one with depressive and the other with mixed mania. And let me tell you, those two can fight with each other like I have never seen. Because my husband was so ill, I tried very hard to keep the kids as protected from his rages as possible. I was always alone with the kids, weddings, work events, beach trips…you name it…I was alone. Knowing the two younger kids were also bi-polar I didn’t want them to think no one would love or stay with them being mentally ill and by leaving their father I would possibly lead them to believe this. So I stayed. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my husband very much. And still do. Things are so messed up that I’m not sure there is a light at the end of my tunnel. The kids are now 34, 26 and 21. Unless I am giving them money they don’t even waste their time talking to me. The 26 yr old has my 7 yr old grand daughter and even tho I raised her til 3 1/2 (she came and took her while I was at work) she refuses to allow me to see her now. She tells her terrible things about me trying to ruin the relationship we did have. While my son (the 21 yr old) is now in my home and I am taking a very well deserved vacation, he has moved some guy into my home (no clue who) and guess he is living in my bedroom. My son has told me not to ever come back. I have no one to talk to because no one understands. If I wrote a book they would put it in the fiction section as no one could believe what bi-polar has done to us. I was laid off (job of 23 yrs), home foreclosed, husband died, no insurance and no way to get the help I know I now need. I love my children very much. Trying to protect them has cost me my life. And I would do it again for their futures. I just want them happy so I will walk away….as parents, we all do the best we can. I’m lost, lonely, and extremely heart broken. Trying to raise a house full of bi-polar proved that I was not equipped for the job. I talked endlessly to professionals who repeated suggested I leave my husband. I just couldn’t. I married for sickness or health. And meant it. But who’s helping me????

  20. Elke Meixner
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Honestly Josh, I am a mentally ill daughter. But your insinuation about “good parents” is something I dont agree with. If i had had “good parents” they would have been “there” for me to help me with life problems. And not dismiss me like they did and not take interest. My parents were so full of their own problems, that they had not time for me or my concerns. I cannot tell you how often I turned to them for support and was just “ignored” and deserted. My mom suffered from depression and homesickness when we immigrated to the USA. She was a bundle of misery, I often tried to sooth her.

    I dont agree with your view of things.

  21. Coeds
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    So many of your comments run true in my life but now my40 year old angry hostile daughter has a child. her latest thing is to use the baby if she likes us or needs us it is ok to take care of the baby, if not we ate forbidden. I think she is just plan evil.

  22. ndry
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Our beautiful child was happy and successful through most of high school. He was kind and loving and loved by all. He won every award that could be given elementary through high school. His teachers loved him. He had no traumas during childhood. But, toward the end of his Sr. year in high school he became angry and argumentative toward us. He started losing friends. He started acting in odd ways. We took him to a psychologist and he said our son was having “developmental problems”, and with therapy should “work out of them”.
    Based on his great academic record, he received a near full academic scholarship. Unfortunately, he got very ill and paranoid his 1st year in college, and had to drop out of school and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Through medication, he came back around and graduated with highest honors. He had several short hospitalizations even while he was in college when he would try to get off of his meds. But he and we kept trying. Now he is 32 and has gotten off of all medications. He accuses us of trying to keep him tamped down, and accused us and his Drs. of getting him hooked on psych. meds.
    He has moved to Washington St., and lives with a pretty, nice girl. But she does not understand what will happen to him if he does not take his meds. We have warned her, but she is partial to his attitude, and thinks we did something wrong in raising him. We feel no guilt or blame in the situation. We have spent tons on hospitalizations and therapy, cars, housing, and food for him. Now he is totally unappreciative and blames us for everything. —My only conclusion is that he is not the same sweet person that we raised. He is literally a different person with a different personality. We have done all that we can do for him. He is an adult (sick and irresponsible as he has become). There is nothing we can do. Now he has come under the influence of Thomas Stephen Szasz’s writings, who says that mental illness is a myth and that the Drug companies have the Drs. under their thumb. There is not a lot we can do. Maybe he will straighten up one day. We only hope he does not end up in jail. indry

  23. Tanya
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    I love my 20 year old son with all my heart. I would do anything to help him…but I am at an impasse. He is hostile and irritable about 90 % of the time now, and he rarely interacts in a positive way with anyone in the family. He screams and swears several times a day, whether it’s inside our home or outside in our extremely quiet neighborhood. He is not physically abusive at all, but he is a big guy and can be VERY intimidating with his posture and body language. Although he is bright and capable, he suffers from extreme anxiety and cannot seem to find the courage to look for a job. I have to find a place for him to live, because he is continuously making everyone in the house uncomfortable. I have no extended family to whom I can turn, and I have absolutely no idea of where to start in helping him. He has never been diagnosed with anything except ADD. Please help.

  24. Susan
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I found out about this site after reading an article on the Vibrant Nation website. Thank goodness ! I can’t believe how many of your stories sound just like mine. My 26 year old has been totally estranged from us for a year now. We went through hell with her during her late teen years. We spent a fortune on counseling and tried everything we could think of to try to work through the poor choices and harm she did to herself and to our family. For years it was like our family revolved around her crises and drama. So much of our energy and attention was focused on her until there seemed to be nothing left.

    She did finally marry and move put of the house and even out of the country. My husband and I were ashamed at the relief we felt that she was gone. We and our younger daughter finally had a calm home environment again.

    In the meantime my problem daughter had lost at least 5 jobs and of course it was never her fault. She finally flew back to the states a year ago and decided she was going to become a marine and go to officer training school. She stayed with us for what was supposed to be about 2 weeks but turned into 3 months. She reverted totally to her high school behavior. After things got particular abusive toward us and her sister we had to ask her to leave. Since then she has not acknowledged any contact we have attempted to make. She has posted
    hostile messages on her Facebook wall and even posted a detailed article about a narcissistic mother. All her rage seems directed at me. She did get into OCS but was cut after 4 weeks. Also not her fault.

    I have gone through so much anguish and guilt and am at the point now where I am numb. I try not to think about her and immerse myself in my own life and in my relationships with my husband and younger daughter. Friends tell me she will be back sooner or later but I’m not so sure. We did the best we could for her but don’t deserve the disrespect and blame she’s heaped upon us.

    Our extended family and friends have been supportive but it helps to know we are not alone. We feel certain there is a mental illness but we havent had control of her health care for some years now. We pray that she will get help.

    • ndry
      Posted October 23, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      We had almost exactly the same situation. I’m afraid there is no answer. You did the right thing. I wonder what they would do if they did not have someone to blame?

  25. Hope
    Posted May 15, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    wow. I feel so bad for all these parents. I thought I had worries…Heart felt prayers for devine intervention ~ help and healing!

  26. Erica
    Posted April 22, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    It is a great disappointment for my parents to hear from my doctors that I am bipolar. My parents always groomed me to be a perfect kid. The result is that they hate my doctor and deny that there is anything wrong with me, regardless of the medications and my efforts to be as “normal” as I can. My mother thinks I simply have a bad character. They simply have not been read in the field of mental illness. My life is very stressful and if it were not for my husband’s support, I would have killed myself by now.

    • Chrissy
      Posted June 10, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Erica, I am so sorry to hear that your parents are in denial of your condition. They seem scared and want to bury their heads in the sand. This need to ‘run away’ has blinded them to the fact that you could really use their understanding and support.
      Spend your time around people who are understanding and who accept you as you are.
      Sometimes, our parents are so wounded from their own bad experiences and repressed feelings, that this fear over-rides their ability to parent in a loving way. These parents are still children.
      I am not bipolar, but I know this to be true, because I have such parents of my own.

    • Robin
      Posted June 11, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      My heart goes out to you. I am not defending but, I wonder if they unconsciously feel guilt. Like maybe they passed it on to you or caused it.
      I have a daughter with a personality disorder and when I tried to get her help, her estranged dad stepped in and prevented her from getting the help she needed. Why I will never know ? She is now an adult and still cannot manage her moods but no one will tell her there is help and she hates me for telling her.

  27. Doris Childress
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    My son fractured my rib last week in a rage. The police threatened to take me to jail because he called first. I did not call because I did not want him to lose the first job he has had that hasn’t fired him for being schizopherenic. He refuses to take his medicines because he feels that he is not crazy everyone else is. So far he has stabbed me 13 times, broke my nose 7 times, 200 stitches, five skull fractures. 3 times in I went to intensive care and he is still the victim. I am sorry but when does it stop. My other children will tell what he is like and the cops in Mount Juliet Tennesse let him do anything he pleases. November 7, 2011 he set me up to have a drug dealer to break in my house and tried to kill me and he still did not go to jail. I am at the end of my ropes what I am to do? I am only 4’11 and he is 6’1 and his mother. I am getting to old to fight him off anymore and my other kids do not deserve this.

    • Anonymous
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Hello thiz iz so sad….I Hope Thangs get better soon….

    • Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      I wish i would have found this forum 5yrs ago. I have been suffering in silence for far too long. I am so thankful to those that are sharing their experiences. After my divorce in 2007, my son, then 15 began a road of self destruction. His 1st arrest was for several larceny charges within our own neighborhood, then drug arrests etc. His first court case the judge presented him with a facility i had found where he could finish his education & learn life skills. He chose jail to spike my efforts, served his time, and went back to his life of crime. He has been in & out of my home so many times i lost count. He left again this past january and i only got a text on his 20th birthday, he was going to come eat with us but i wouldnt allow a bunch of “friends” to come also, therefore i havent heard from him since 4/3/12. I am constantly anxious, depressed etc, wondering if he is okay. Now, the deputy showed up a few days ago with a warrant & i fear for what he has done now, but have no way to reach him. The worry is overwelming & it is so painful that he has no relationship with his 11yr old sister as well. I have been praying for 5yrs now and it just seems to never end.

      • Dee
        Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        My heart goes out to you.I am dealing with a19yo,undiagnose,refuses help daughter.I feel that she is literally running my household.My patience have gotten so short because she is so angry,especially with me.I cant figure out why.My thought is that I am always the disclipinarian.My husband was in denial for a long time until she started in on him.It is hard to tell a now adult to get help because it is up to them to seek it.I love her and hate the thought of putting her out of my house,she needs help.After going through this for for 6years it has taken such a negative effect on my family.I explode more often on her because I am so tired and drained.She is so disrespectful and I keep telling myself that she needs help.I am considering anger management even though I only have this problem with her.My husband has a severe family history of mental illness and seems to take it personal that she is having this problem which has almost destryed our marriage.Of course I dont blame him but just because you dont aknowledge it doesnt mean it doesnt exist.This is so hard.

        • tara
          Posted July 16, 2012 at 5:35 am | Permalink

          Dee- I know your daughter is an adult so you can’t “make” her get help, but couldn’t you have “rules if you live here”. I kicked my 18 year old out because he would not follow my rules (I mean important rules–not all) and was a bad example to my younger children. After two months he asked to move back in and is now following the important rules (drugs,etc). He has to follow these or he will be kicked out again. I worried about him when he was away, but he called me constantly and tried to tie me into his problems. I even had to call the police because he threatened suicide if I did not give him something he wanted. He ended up at a hospital and was angry at me because of it. You have to be firm–which is hard because you want to save your child from themselves!!! My son still has problems—but he is being a better example to my other children and treats me better in front of them, does more chores, etc. He still does not go to counseling or take any medications, but has not been doing all of the overly dramatic threats, etc and as far as I can tell is not taking any unnecessary drugs. Is there anything you can take from her to get her to comply with some of your more important rules? Or is there any reward she wants to get the same effect?

      • ta
        Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        i will keep you in my prayers as well. You have done the best you can–you have to leave it in God’s hands. This seems hard sometimes-but you are no good to anyone if you try to shoulder the burden alone. Your son is an adult and has to make his own choices. God loves your son and it is not up to you to “make” things happen for your son. Make your life good and do not let this overwhelm you. I know what I am saying is easier said than done—but you are not going to change a single thing worrying. Try to find a counselor and or support for yourself. It really does help.

    • tara
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      Doris–have you pressed charges against him for the physical violence? It may be time to cut the cord. I understand–I have 4—yes 4 teenage boys with varying forms of rage and mental illness. I have not suffered the physical violence as much as you have described. Your son needs serious help–you can not help him anymore. You need to get yourself and other children away from him, if he is an adult. Press charges if he breaks the law. You are in my prayers.

  28. miguel
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    i believe my brother has motor retardation psychosis and he is basically a 6 year old in a mans body he is now 25. he has recently become more aggressive. he has bin constantly running away, day or night. i seriously don’t know what to do or how to help my mother. i feel so depressed to see my mother worry. we don’t know how to help him at all, especially in our situation. i have almost lost hope

  29. Janet
    Posted January 1, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    This article perfectly expresses my concerns as the parent of a mentally ill child. Our youngest child is now 17 and is violent, explosive, angry, belligerent, and defiant. Simply reminding him to brush his teeth or asking him to do a chore (for instance, clean his room) will incite a violent reaction that will last for hours. Yes, he is on medicines, yes, he sees a psychiatrist regularly, but in the end, his behavior hasn’t changed. In fact, as he has gotten older, it is substantially worse. We have been unable to obtain services that will help. Well meaning family and friends continually advise us to simply “be strict” with him, or even worse, “He doesn’t act that way around us”! The inference of course is that we don’t handle him properly. Michio Kakau (a physicist) said about Gerald Loughner what a tragedy it is that someone has an easier time obtaining a gun than help for his mental health issues.

    • Dee
      Posted June 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      This is my first posting after having a terrible blow up eith my 19 year old.I started having problrems with her in grammar school,around 6th grade.They were small things at first,stubborness,talking back and defiance to the max.These outburst spilled over right in to HighSchool,so angry all the time,swearing and threatening teachers.I finally got her in to counseling and she would not talk to her .The counselor believed that she may have had a ADD in her younger years that went unnoticed and at that time she appeared depressed.She was started on Paxil(low dose).She hated taking the meds and eventually my husband stopped giving them to her.This was age 16.Now at 19 I see signs of hoarding.I say hoarding someone else may just say lazy and messy.I am a Registered Nurse and the only difference in her and my psych patients is that I love her so so much.It is getting so hard to deal with her,I feel drained and find myself exploding at her.I want so badly to get help for her and maybe even for myself .The dynamics of my whole house has changed.When her mood is bad it controles the whole mode of my house.She seems to hate me mostly,my husband only if he supports me.I should stop now because I could go on for hours.

      • ta
        Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

        Dee–Yes—keep helping her–but do not make the mistake I made–constantly seeking help for my children–but forgetting to get help for myself. You can not remain calm and able to help her if you do not have any support. Do not assume that your parents or family members are your best support–find a counselor or support group—people who are going through these things may be better support. When you feel confident that you are doing your best-you have more control over the situation. Refuse to “play the games”. Refuse to give her things that she wants when exhibiting wrong behavior—but reward for steps in the right direction even if small steps. Figure out which behaviors are non-negotiable—let some go that you can be ok with. DO NOT listen to those who say it is your fault or who think you should feel guilty. It would be great if you and your husband could be together on what to do.

    • tara
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      Janet–I hear you!!!! Often our family members (parents, ex spouses) blame us for being too lenient–“when I see kids like that I know they have not been disciplined properly” –they do not understand–AT ALL. Boundaries are important–and consequences–but they do not make these kinds of kids “fall in line” as everyone wishes. The reason is that they do not know what to do either. It is easier to blame you. You are doing the best yu can—also get help for yourself (counseling, etc)

  30. barbara
    Posted December 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    my son is 12 and has intermite explosive disorder in short its like living with a time bomb he calls me unspeakable names and has pulled knives and forks the carving kind on me and his father we have tried everything i cant live like this any more….i fight with my husband over his behavior and our house is being destroyed i never thought i would have a child who is the embodiment of the devil my oldest daughter says we need an exersist

    • Posted December 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      Hello…My Name Is Evette….OMG…My daughter is tha same way….

    • YeVonne
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      Wow my daughter haz I.E.D and other disorders….

    • Amy
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      THis is my son, this is my life!

    • ta
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      The only things that have worked for us are external controls–pressing charges, psychiatric hospitals, etc. My youngest is 12 and has been diagnosed with same thing. I totally understand. Mine lives with my ex–but of course he feels this is all my fault–as his three older brothers also have varying forms of mental illness. He claims that since I “let” them act this way that is why the fourth does. I have been enjoying my house being destroyed and being threatened–not to mention the interruption of free time with calls to the police and drives to mental institutions!!! I am joking of course–counseling, a psychiatric hospital, outside controls sometimes help-like pressing charges.I have been dealing with these kinds of problems for a long time—it is very hard. But you have to keep seeking help–counselors, psychiatrists, local law enforcement, crisis mental health places, etc. Also–you and your husband need to band together and support each other.

  31. Anonymous
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Permalink


    I work with the people that suffer from mental illness every day as part of my job. I come home after working with the stress of mental illness all day to a son that suffers from a disconcent with reality. His symptoms are new in the past couple of months and thank god I did know the warning signs. He has a long jounery ahead of him we both do, I have given him my word that I will not give up on him. I face negative statments from his fathers side of the family telling me that he “just needs he butt spanked”. It is good to know that I’m not alone as a parent and there are people who understand what I’m going through

  32. Posted August 24, 2011 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    I thought of sharing my thoughts with Martz about what she should do with her 18 teenager. My suggestion is to love him unconditionally for the way he is. God don’t make mistakes, he is perfect the way he is.

  33. Mark
    Posted August 21, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Mentally ill children are so emotionally draining. My 19 year old son was just discharged from the local psych unit. He is off of his medications and I feel so bad for him. He is so miserable and causes me so much worry. He runs and rides his bike and does not come home. He will do bizarre things like riding his bike out of the state, run to the next state etc and doing this in the middle of the winter when it is below zero. The police will pick him up, but cannot really do anything because he is not causing a disturbance or committing a crime. I have lost so many nights of sleep worrying about his safety. I have lost a real good job because of him running away, getting in trouble at school and the stress involved with dealing with a mentally ill kid.

  34. jane
    Posted August 20, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    As I am crying my eyes out….I am NOT alone!! I could fix everything when Will was younger and NOW I can fix nothing!!! It is hard to watch and know what to do or not do!! Praying for all that are living in this pain like me!! A much needed read for me!!

    • Doris Childress
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink


      You are not alone. I used to think I was the only one. I wondered what I had to done to God to be punished so badly. My other children do not deserve this. He father would encourage him to act worse to be cruel to me. He is also schizopherenic.

  35. Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Thank-you, Dr. Coleman. I don’t know one parent of a mentally ill child who doesn’t at some point blame him or herself for their child’s condition. These aren’t cases of spoiled rotten children who needed boundaries growing up. Yet its hard not to dissect what I did or didn’t do raising my daughter and wonder “How would she have turned out if I did XYZ instead?” Before my daughter was diagnosed and acting strangely, I assumed it was because she was a hormonal 14 yr old only-child. I wasn’t about to call the pediatrician every time she looked at me with dagger eyes, yelled “I hate you” and hide in her room for hours on end.

    We wouldn’t dream of blaming the parents when their children are stricken with cancer. Why would we? Cancer can strike anyone at anytime. It’s no one’s fault. Blaming a parent for having a mentally ill child is doubly hurtful. When we need support from our family and friends, its often times lacking from the people we need to lean on the most.

    • Kelli
      Posted July 2, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I remember when my daughter was 14, I took her to our doctor and continued to do so, and my doctor always just blew off the behavior as “teen hormone stuff.” Now my daughter at 20 is a full fledged alcoholic who will not comply with her meds or treatment for alcohol abuse or mental health.

      I had to make her leave the house the other night and I can not let her come back. My younger children were scared and she was screaming and yelling at me calling me every name in the book.

      I have tried every avenue to get her help, including having her petitioned and committed, but the hospital always releases her.

      I am afraid she will die soon, but I need to protect my younger ones and if she is not willing to seek and comply with treatment I have no other choice. HOwever, the pain and guilt it causes me is enormous.

      I dont know what else I can do.

    • t
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      Mama Lioness-
      That is so right!! We do not blame parents if their children come down with a physical illness like cancer–but we blame them when children have mental illness or “behavioral issues” I used to get soo sad hearing all the announcements at school (I am a teacher), being asked to keep this one in their prayers for husbands surgery, that one for child’s illness, or this one for nephews cancer. All the while who could I tell that my 18 year old was just put in psychiatric hospital after hallucinations, cutting, burning himself, etc. No one was asking for prayer for me!! Have not had good luck with getting help from my church friends (we are not good to be around anymore), family—they are sick of my “spoiled” children that I do not discipline and who are not grateful for everything they give us—etc, etc. I am sick of spending most weekends with police or psychiatric hospitals, etc!!!!

  36. annette
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    thank u so much for this article. we as his parents are ALWAYS blaming ourselves. reading things like this makes one feel a little less”alone” in this mess….

  37. Tina
    Posted July 31, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    WOW… My son will soon be 26 and much of this article was my son. At 6 months I knew something was wrong but could not find any help. I worked with him, got speech lessons, my babysitter was great with him. Preschool opened his social skills and they would work with him when he would feel trapped and want to hide!? Preschool worked one on one with a male teacher since I was a single parent they thought it might help. Pre-school recommended speech to continue and they encouraged a male teacher when he started Kindergarten. GREAT again. First grade he started having a few more issues and wanting to hide and socially seemed to start withdrawing.
    Still with no Medical help I made an appointment to have him evaluated at Central Valley Regional Center. They thought he could have a form of autism but due to his age of 7 they thought he was too old to give a valid diagnosis but he seemed to have all the signs????? Again I felt back to page 1 No Help.
    He changed schools and 2nd grade got more socially withdrawn. He would feel withdrawn and he would run out of class, curl in a fetal position and grunt not talk. I was called numerous time to come to school. On time he ran to the playground and hide behind a tree, the school could not find him for about 30 minutes when they finally called me after they found him they also called the local CPS Intervention. NOW we were getting somewhere. But they could not get through to him. When I got there I got him to stand up out of his fetal position and look at me and talk to where I could understand him. Oh yeah he ended speech in 2nd grade but still had a mumble talk. I think he was talking to fast and I would get him to slow down so I could understand him. It worked for me.
    The CPS Intervention referred me to a local Child Mental Health facility called Turning Point. They had me see a Psychologist. She diagnosed him as depressed. I didn’t think that was right but the meds seemed to work. His counselor he would see each week thought he may have had aspergers. I also researched and I thought the same thing. I hope this helps anyone that reads it.

  38. Karen Smith
    Posted July 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Dr. Coleman, for expressing the terrible dilemma that parents of such children go through! It is so easy for others who don’t understand to blame the parents.

  39. Martz
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    What do you do if your son is 18 and refuses to go see someone who could diagnose him? He is supposedly an adult, but decisions about what to eat. what to wear, when to take a shower he is unable to make. No, he is not limited in intelligence, just mentally ill. The “professionals” won’t tell you anything but you have to deal with him each and every day. What do you do? I thought the behavioral unit at the hospital would help me but I just ended at square #1 AGAIN!

    • Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      i did finally get son to go to phyc at 18 and they gave him depression meds, he took them for a few days but then stopped. It was so disappointing for me because it took a great deal of effort to get the appointment & actually get him to go to the intial appointments. The next 2yrs were miserable with him. He is 20 now and still very inmature about simple stuff like hygene etc but left home about 6mo ago because he didnt like my rules and sadly doesnt contact me & i have no idea how to reach him. The deputy came to my home a few days ago with a warrant for his arrest because this is the address on file. Obviously he is still living a life that is painful for me to understand. I wish you the best of luck

    • Chris
      Posted March 20, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      I’m in same situation with 19y/o son. Father was accomplished professional when he had psychotic break just after son born. We had it all before mental illness took it all away. Sheer terror with ex-husbands gun obsession (police would not take gun away). Lost my job, house in foreclosure and now my son has substantial signs of mental illness and will not get help after my repeated attempts and his life-long education about the genetic aspects of mental illness. It’s too much to bear. Don’t know what will come of this. Feels like a horrible nightmare.

  40. Terri
    Posted April 10, 2011 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Why does society allow for everything in your body to break except your brain? The most intricate organ and somehow it should always work perfectly without question. And if it doesn’t, well then we can’t talk about it or even let anyone know because it is not accepted. It is not understood. There is no magic pill to get rid of the symptoms and make us “healthy” again so we act like it doesn’t exist. More importantly a mentally ill child shows a lack of family structure, poor parenting skills or even worse an abhorrent breakdown in your family genes. We have had all of this and more said to us over the years. While the comments were painful they were nothing compared to the daily struggle of living with a mentally ill son in a society where few will speak of it and the services for your child are well hidden or don’t exist due to lack of funding.

    Being the parent of a mentally ill child is not an easy life. You love your child and would do anything for them. The only problem is sometimes doing “anything for them” is not the best answer. Finding the balance between what the child needs and what is best for them can be a huge problem. There is no one answer to “what should I do next?” And the answers you do finally get are learned after the fact and through much heartache. While the stigma of mental illness needs to be changed there needs to be more education and support for the families and the mentally ill. This is of course if you can get the family and the child to recognize and accept the diagnosis. So many parents don’t see the signs because they don’t want to. Accepting a mental illness diagnosis is not a personal slam to the parents. It is very real and dangerous if not properly treated.

    Our son was diagnosed after he was run over by an RV and had a closed head injury. He was 9 years old. Evan is now 29. He has been doing well for about the past 11 months and we are so thankful, but the previous 8 years have been extremely difficult. We don’t know what the future will bring but we will face it together and get through it.

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