Parenting a teen with a mental health or substance use disorder

You care about the well-being of your child. When that child is facing a mental health or substance use disorder (SUD), it can be painful for the whole family. Parents may feel helpless or blame themselves. They may feel greater stress and worry about finding treatment.

There is good news, however. Help is available for teens struggling with mental health disorders or SUDs. With a little guidance, parents can ensure their teen receives proper treatment while also supporting their own self-care needs.

Finding a mental health provider

An evaluation from a mental health provider is the first step. It may take several visits for the provider to complete a full assessment and suggest a course of treatment. Parents should find someone who respects their opinion and considers them a partner in the treatment process. A recommendation from the teen’s pediatrician is a good place to start.

Ensuring the provider is a good fit

Parents are often willing to try anything when dealing with a teen in crisis. However, it is important to find the right fit when seeking mental healthcare for their family member. A provider experienced in working with teens and SUDs is the most appropriate option.

Finding a support group

Parenting a child with a substance use or mental health disorder can be isolating. It is vital that parents get the proper support so they can cope. Well-meaning family or friends may empathize, but it may be difficult for them to truly understand what parents are going through. Alternatively, others may be judgmental of the family’s challenges.

Joining a support group with other parents of teens working through a mental health or SUD can help considerably. The right support group will help parents learn coping strategies. It can also help them learn how to navigate the health care system, how to advocate for their child, and how to take care of their family’s needs overall.

Al-Anon can be a great place to start. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has groups for families with youth and teens experiencing a mental illness or SUD.

Advocating for the teen

Parents can help their teen by taking the lead on researching what services may be available, and understanding what their child may qualify for. Allying with the teen’s teachers, social workers, and healthcare providers can make the process more cohesive.

Prioritizing self-care

While a parent’s instinct may be to put their teen’s needs first, that is not always the healthiest choice. Good parents look after their own self-care and well-being. Additional relationships and activities can help them live a fulfilling, complete life.

If parents begin to feel that the responsibility of helping their teen through these challenges is too much to bear, they may need to prioritize their own mental health and seek individual therapy.