If someone you love or care for seems to need treatment, know that you have a role to play in offering support but the person receiving treatment should be the final decision-maker about what types of treatment will or will not work for them. Even children should be included in the decision-making processes where developmentally appropriate.
Support as a Parent or Caregiver
As a parent or caregiver, it can be incredibly challenging to see your child struggle with symptoms of a mental health condition. Children can experience mental health symptoms as early as 3-4 years old, but the onset of mental health symptoms more commonly presents near puberty, in teenage or young adult years. Understanding how to support your loved one will vary by their age. As children grow older, it is important to encourage them to determine their own care and what wellness looks like to them.
Below 12 Years Old
When a child is below the age of 12, decisions around their care will be up to the parent or caregiver. However, where developmentally appropriate, you will want to include your child in conversations around the purpose of seeking care. Children as young as 4 and 5 can work with an individual therapist. However, at this age, it is also common to have family members involved in the care. This could look like a parent or caregiver joining certain sessions or all sessions. At this age, parents and caregivers should consider starting their search for treatment by collaborating with their pediatrician and asking for a referral.
12-18 Years Old
In certain states, children 12 years and older can determine their own need for care. If you are the parent or caregiver of a young person who is interested in seeking care, supporting their decision is an important first step. Even if you are unsure whether your young person needs treatment, it is helpful to remain curious and open-minded when having conversations about needing mental health care. If you observe your child might need care, it is important to have a thoughtful conversation with them about the need to start treatment. Where it feels appropriate, try to include them in the decision-making process about what kind of care to seek. Read more about the signs and symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder in children and teens.
18 Years or Older
When your child is over 18, their care decisions will be all their own. As a parent or caregiver to a child at this age, it is important to help them navigate setting up doctors’ appointments, working with insurance, and managing their own medication. To help set them up for success, you should begin including them in this process during their teenage years, so they understand the ins and outs of making health care appointments. When your child is over 18, you will want to support them through getting treatment but also have more boundaries on how much they can solicit your help here. As a parent or caregiver, it is important to model receiving health care regularly, so a great way to help your child who is over 18 is to fill them in on your own health care where appropriate.
18–26-Year-Old- Insurance Considerations – Young adults aged 18-26 years old can stay on their parent’s or caregivers’ health insurance. If you are the parent or caregiver of a person in this age range, your insurance may help to cover their care, but unlike before they were 18 years old, you will not play as much of a role in determining your child’s care. It can be helpful to create a plan during this time with your child to determine the type of care and support that they will need. In some circumstances, certain insurance providers will allow someone to stay on insurance after 26 years old. Work with your insurance provider to determine your options.
Support as a Spouse or Partner
If you believe your spouse or partner may benefit from treatment, begin these conversations from a place of love and openness. Before you begin a conversation with them, it is important to clarify first why you believe treatment might help them. Are there problems in your relationship? Does your partner seem to have difficulties in other areas of their life, outside of the relationship? Are both the relationship and your partner having difficulties? Couples therapy can be a great option for relationship problems. If you notice your partner struggling with symptoms outside of the relationship, you can mention your concerns, such as noticing a change in their mood or pointing out that they are much more snappy than usual. Ask how you as a partner can support them to get help for their struggles.
Support as a Friend
Friendships can be particularly challenging for people experiencing symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms associated with depression include wanting to isolate and withdraw from normal activities, which can be challenging for our friendships. If someone you care about lives with depression or bipolar disorder, the most important thing you can do as a friend is be there for them. Being a friend does not mean you will need to solve their problems or even understand exactly what they are going through; offering a listening ear and compassionate words can always be helpful.