Every day, parents are challenged by teenage children who have mental illness and addiction. The decision to send our 17-year-old daughter to residential treatment this past spring, where she lived and received treatment for addiction and mental illness, was not an easy one — but it was a necessary one. Some friends and family members didn’t understand why we needed to make this seemingly drastic decision — things weren’t that bad, were they? Didn’t she just need time to mature? Weren’t we being too harsh with her, expecting her to be the “ideal child” that her older brother seemingly was?
Here are five reasons we’re not ashamed we sent our daughter to residential treatment.
1. She was somewhere safe.
Despite the fact my little girl would be living 70 miles away from us with limited communication (we were allowed phone calls once a week with weekly visits on Sunday), we knew she would be safe. We could sleep well each night without worrying about where she was or wondering if she would sneak out. I was entrusting her care to a group of people I didn’t know, but it didn’t scare me. We have lived with terrifying for most of the previous year.
The advent of a driving license, new friendships, the continuing battle with impulse control due to ADHD, and the emerging battle with depression and anxiety, was causing our daughter to make dangerous and risky decisions. She used drugs and alcohol to help her cope with depression and anxiety on a daily basis. The constant fighting, defiance and willful disobedience make us feel completely helpless. We were watching our child make decisions that could have permanent and devastating consequences for herself, our family or others. She needed to be somewhere else so she could live.
2. She was getting the help she needed.
We were lost, and didn’t know where to turn. She had a brief inpatient hospitalization early in the year and then entered outpatient treatment. The outpatient treatment didn’t seem to help much. She was easily triggered and was still sneaking out, lying and self-harming. Even after a parenting class that helped us better handle the situation, she still was floundering with anxiety and depression and wasn’t embracing therapy.
But at residential treatment, she had to participate in therapy — she had nowhere else to go and no way to escape it. She still had difficult days in treatment, but her treatment counselors were constantly there to help her face her illness and behaviors, and find ways to make positive changes.
3. We realized just how deep her illness was.
We were ignorant to the intricacies of mental illness, and soon were overwhelmed with the variety of diagnoses that were given to our daughter: major depression, moderate anxiety, borderline personality traits, PTSD, dysmorphic body image. This was not something that would be quickly cured. It’s a long road of therapy, mood swings, outbursts, emotional meltdowns and medication adjustments. The patient and family both go through the stages of grief and acceptance of the diagnosis, and have to live with a new “normal” that may never return to life as it was.
4. It brought our family closer together.
We would have never thought this experience would help us gain a new level of compassion, love and understanding. We are a positive, faith-fueled family, and always try to find the blessings in the trials we face. During our most frustrating days as parents, we look at how this has brought our children closer. When my son visited his sister in residential treatment, they would embrace and express love for each other, laughing and talking like I don’t remember them doing in over a decade. Our patience and communication was stronger and honest, even if sometimes it was hard to hear or say.
5. She is on the road to recovery and wellness.
My daughter was discharged after 91 days in treatment, and bringing her her home to live with us again was more frightening than bringing home a newborn baby. We’ve taken parenting skills classes, attending mental health training and engaged in family therapy. We now find most days things are getting better. However, she still manages to find a ways to sneak out, to deceive and engage in self-sabotaging behaviors.
Recovery is a long, winding road, with many obstacles and detours. We’ve had a few setbacks, including a four-day inpatient hospital stay to halt some negative and risky behavior patterns, and also a medication adjustment. Family therapy has been very positive and we’ve seen our relationships and home life improve greatly.
Many people will ask, “What can we do to help?” or “What do you need?” We need you to love us — all of us. There will be times we want to talk about what’s going on, and times we don’t. Sometimes all we need is a hug. We love our daughter so much it literally hurts. Parenting a child with mental illness and addiction is tough, and I believe it’s only through the grace of God we get through it each day.