Mental illness is preventable and treatable!
Here’s what else I learned in the course of writing my new book, A Lethal Inheritance, due out in January 2012, about how parents can safeguard a child’s mental health.
1. Chart a “tree” of your family mental health history going back three generations, and record all known or suspected mental disorders and addictions.
If relatives balk at your digging into the past, point out that it’s for the safety of your children and future grandchildren. Use the U.S. Surgeon General’s online form for recording and storing your family mental health (and medical) history. Give it to your pediatrician or mental health practitioner.
2. Strongly consider your mental and emotional health before and during pregnancy.
If you are currently on an antidepressant, talk to a mental health professional before making a decision about whether to stay on it during pregnancy. Medication may pose fewer risks to your child than would your severe depression.
3. Learn about environmental agents that may cause miscarriages, birth defects or developmental problems later in childhood.
The source may be a disease such as chickenpox, a prescription drug, or a household chemical. A good web resource for the latest information is the March of Dimes.
4. Take paternal risk factors into account.
5. Treat yourself first.
Think of your actions as an act of prevention for your child’s mental health. If you don’t have private health insurance, go to your county public mental health clinic. It’s that important.
6. Monitor your child’s behavior for early symptoms.
Most adult mental disorders start before the age of fourteen. If there is a high density of any single mental illness among your relatives, learn about its early signs: for example, social withdrawal for depression, or extreme anger and aggression for conduct disorder, which can predict adolescent psychosis. Especially if there’s a family history of mental illness or addictions, use any means necessary to stop your teenager’s use of marijuana, as it can trigger psychosis.
7. Talk about thoughts and feelings.
As soon as your child begins to recognize and name her own thoughts and feelings and those of others, start an age-appropriate conversation about how our human emotions and minds work. This “normalization” of differences makes it more likely that your child will confide any future psychological problems to you and be less inclined to stigmatize others.
8. Have zero tolerance toward bullying.
Even if your child begs you not to make a fuss, understand that the potential psychological damage (including suicide) for him or her if the abuse continues is far worse than any temporary embarrassment.
9. Make self-esteem a family priority.
Self-esteem has gotten a bad rap because it’s been confused with having an outsized and incorrect sense of one’s positive qualities and abilities. True self-esteem is the basis of emotional resiliency, which gets severely tested at several points in childhood — especially around early parent-child separations and in the tween years.
10. Build up your family, community and online support system.
Social isolation isn’t good for parents or children.
To read about how I found out about the mental illness in my family’s past and how families can treat and prevent children’s mental disorders, and to read an excerpt, go to the book website, alethalinheritance.com