Due to shame and ignorance, mental health issues like depression and substance use disorders in children were once things that were just swept under the rug. Thankfully, more and more parents have realized how important it is for children to get specialized treatment for these issues.
However, as with physical illnesses, there are psychiatric conditions with effects that persist after the initial treatment. And unlike recovery from a physical injury, recovering from a mental health problem is often a comparatively slow and arduous process, even if it doesn’t seem like it on the surface.
This means parents who have children in rehab for a mental health issue will need to pay close attention to their continuing care, the phase of recovery that follows an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. Regardless of whether they are a small child or an adult, parents who have a child in their care should understand what to expect and learn what things are truly helpful.
Below are some pointers to keep in mind to help a child after they complete their rehab program. Check out these resources for Boston rehab centers to find aftercare and rehab options suited for children of all ages.
1.) Take Aftercare Seriously
The quality of aftercare one receives can be a major predictor of whether or not someone relapses. In other words, you probably don’t want to leave your child’s long-term recovery solely in their hands or in the hands of a therapist that they may not even be able to see regularly.
If your child is still living in your household, it will be important for you to make sure that they can visit their psychiatrist or therapist regularly and attend any recommended support groups. Given the long recovery periods and chronic nature of most mental illnesses, you and other people in the household may also have to do slight lifestyle adjustments to accommodate their treatment.
Additionally, you will need to accept that your child’s condition may be with them for the rest of their life, even if and when they do make a recovery that makes it seem that they’re completely “cured”. You may have to continue being vigilant about their long-term recovery needs even if it no longer seems necessary. This means will be important to always show your support and to avoid saying or doing anything that can make things worse.
2.) Understand That Young People’s Brains Are Different
You cannot treat children and teens the same way that you treat a fully developed adult. This is because their brains are fundamentally different.
Young people’s brains exhibit a high degree of “plasticity” and are still in the process of “neurogenesis”. Unlike fully-developed adults, their brains still create a multitude of new cells every day, and existing cells can very rapidly form new connections. Both plasticity and neurogenesis drop off dramatically when a person becomes a fully-developed adult in their early 20s.
Young people are at both an advantage and disadvantage when it comes to recovering from mental health issues. In practical terms, this means that younger people are acutely vulnerable to developing mental health problems as a result of trauma or substance misuse. However, their recovery can also be more rapid, especially when the right interventions are consistently given.
3.) You May Need to Set Expectations Together
Recovery can often be a difficult process, for the affected individual and caregivers alike. While circumstances are different in each case, generally speaking, you and your child will need to work together to set goals and boundaries.
This will be especially true if they are a young adult or older teen. Relapses and other behavioral problems remain a possibility, especially in early recovery, so it’s important for both of you to consider this risk and to realistically plan around it. It may be especially important to keep them from regularly contacting friends who are negative influences during the early parts of their aftercare.
4.) Allow Your Child Some Freedom — Within Reason
It’s also important to set expectations and boundaries because you’ll want your child to have some freedom as they recover. After rehab, they should typically be able to go back to school, find employment, and socialize with people who are positive influences. Being occupied with these activities can be a good way to restore a sense of normalcy as they heal and regain functionality.
5.) Understand the Signs of a Relapse
The signs of a relapse can be extremely subtle, and not always obvious to outside observers. Parents should work closely with their child’s clinicians and take the time to research their child’s specific mental health condition so that they could better understand when a relapse is happening or is imminent. This can allow a more timely intervention should it become necessary.
6.) Take Care of Yourself
It’s not realistic to expect to be able to care for others if you yourself need help. Seeing a child go through a mental health crisis can also be very difficult for parents themselves, and cause feelings of depression and anxiety. What’s more, they may not always have the support they need, as their child’s condition may seem to have relative precedence.
Seeing a mental health professional regularly help you cope with your emotions in a healthier more productive way. This will not only allow you to help your child better but will also give you an idea of the recovery processes they are experiencing.
Find Better Aftercare Options Today
Aftercare is different for every situation. Children undergoing aftercare for a mental health issue should have realistic, actionable strategies available that account for their unique situation. Discuss things with your current mental health professional or seek a second opinion with another qualified clinician to develop an aftercare strategy that works for everyone.