How to cope with and help a child who is suffering from emotional, mental illness

Seek professional help. Because mental illness is a physiological and a psychological disease, it requires the best of medical and psychological help. Seek out wise and highly skilled professionals who can help with counseling and medical intervention as needed.

  • Show love and patience. Sometimes those suffering from mental illness can be irritable, angry or even rebellious at times. As you continue to love and nurture your child, he or she can with time and competent professional assistance make positive decisions and return to a productive life.- Don't blame yourself or your child. Your child did not choose to be ill any more than he or she would choose to be diabetic. And although there is sometimes a genetic factor in the illness, you cannot be held responsible for its manifestation.
  • Have faith in priesthood power. Priesthood blessings are an essential part of the healing process. Through the faith of each family member, not only the child but also each person in the family can be comforted, lifted and succored.
  • Develop a support system. Surround yourself with caring, understanding friends who are willing to listen to your concerns and are non-judgmental in their attitudes.
  • Learn all you can about the illness. Often the symptoms of emotional illness in children differ from those in adults.
  • Lean on the Lord. When no one else understands your pain, He does. Turn to Him in mighty prayer for comfort and relief. He will guide and direct you and bring peace to your heart. – Carol Rich, Sandy, Utah

What we did:

Much love

Much love should be shown toward a child who is emotionally and mentally upset. He/she should be allowed to participate in meaningful social gatherings involving his/her peer groups. The child should be encouraged in any little effort in doing good service. – Chinedu C. Omoha, Lagos, Nigeria

`Sound mind'

A few weeks ago, our 15-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a mental illness. I was frightened by the drastic change in her behavior. Other people who had known her well previously were equally fearful and often asked me what they could do to help. One morning as I was taking a walk, the phrase "sound mind" came to me repeatedly. I looked up the words in the topical guide, and I found this beautiful scripture: "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Tim. 1:7.) As I struggled to know how this scripture had relevance to my family's situation, it became clear to me that I was being presented with a formula. What our Heavenly Father has given us to deal with mental illness is the following:

  • Priesthood power.
  • Love.
  • Trained, worthy professionals who can help restore a mind to soundness through counseling and appropriate medication. – Serena Davidson, Iona, Idaho

Rely on each other

We learned that our relationship as husband and wife is crucial if we are all going to survive. A depressed family member affects everyone in the family. We have relied on each other's love and strength as never before. – Names and location withheld

Accurate diagnosis

  • Seek to obtain the most accurate diagnosis possible from the most qualified mental health care worker.
  • Follow recommendations and treatment prescribed.
  • Obtain from local health care workers a list of services, programs, respite care, shelters, workshops, etc., in your community. – Jodie Hansen, Ridgecrest, Calif.

Calm place

A counselor gave me several ways to handle my young son's behavior:

  • Provide a place to calm down. We had recently moved and I had decorated his room with handprints in bright Primary colors in no particular order. This was driving him nuts. We quickly repainted his room. We also minimized the amount of pictures he had in his room.
  • Identify his moods and help him change them as needed. Since he was so young this was done by using colors. When he was beginning to get upset or just after an episode, I would ask him what color he felt like inside. I would also ask him what color he was at different times of the day, and when I began to realize what colors triggered his behavior, together we would change his "color."
  • Find something he loves to do and reinforce this good behavior. We found he loved to organize things. We brought it to the attention of his teachers at school and at Church. They started asking him to organize the crayons or papers and he began to enjoy going to Primary each week.
  • Ensure plenty of sleep. We have noticed that if he does not get enough sleep at night, he has problems during the day.
  • Maintain structure and consistency. If things change too much in his life, it is too much for his little mind to handle. So our daily schedules have little variance. – Teri Davenport, Kearns, Utah

Priesthood blessings

  • Obtain priesthood blessings, both the parents and the child. They give you strength and sometimes answers will come.
  • Attend the temple as often as possible. It is the best place to receive inspiration and guidance. Put his or her name on the prayer roll.
  • Have supportive and understanding friends. Sometimes there is nothing anyone can do, but being able to talk to someone who cares can lift a huge burden from you.
  • Do as many "normal" family activities as possible, such as family prayer, study and family home evening, whether or not the child can or will participate. The needs of your other children are also important to meet.
  • Remember he/she is a child of God. Look for the goodness and sweet spirit that is sometimes hidden inside. – Julie Woolley, Rochester, Minn.

Faith in plan

I have learned that there are some adversities in life that cannot be handled without faith in the plan of salvation. One of the biggest challenges is to help the child realize he or she is not mentally ill as a punishment. The children must feel loved and supported by their earthly as well as their heavenly parents. God loves each one of us and will allow nothing more than we can endure. – Name and location withheld

How to checklist:

1 Seek Lord's help through prayer, priesthood blessings.

2 Show love, be patient; don't blame self, child.

3 Seek professional help; learn about your child's illness.

4 Maintain routine, not only for child, but for family as well.


Oct. 19 "How to support your wife as she serves as an auxiliary leader."

Oct. 26 "How to be more sensitive to those around you in different marital and family circumstances."

Nov. 2 "How to take responsibility for your own happiness."

Nov. 9 "How to find joy `in the morning.' "

Nov. 16 "How to instill spirit of Thanksgiving in children."

Nov. 23 "How to prepare for the arrival of first child."

Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, send fax to (801) 237-2121 or use internet E-mail: [email protected]. Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.