Faith and Life: Supporting parents with troubled children

We are doing another series on Parenting Special Needs Children and Teens at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA. It is wonderful to see parents who have challenging children receive education and support from others who have walked through a similar journey.

Raising a child with depression, bipolar disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, rage and the like can leave parents depleted, isolated, and wondering why, with the staggering statistics, mental illness is stigmatized against. After all, one in five families has a mentally ill member.

Fifty percent of high school students with mental illness drop out of school. This is higher than any other demographic group. One in 10 children are affected by depression or serious emotional disturbances, 3% to 5% of children have Attention Deficit Disorder.

This is how children are born, just like other children may be born with physical disabilities. As Dr. Skip Baker said as he presented on ADHD two weeks ago, “Mental illness is not opinion. It is science.”

Indeed. As he showed MRI slides of brains with various disorders, it would be difficult for the denying parent to not consider their child’s behavior is a physiological issue. Just as a person with diabetes takes glucose tests that show results, so can brain imaging confirm children have certain disorders that if treated can change their lives — ceasing maladaptive patterns of behaviors and coping and self medicating through drugs and alcohol.

This is why I started the series on this topic last year: If we do not educate ourselves and help our minor children, no one else will. And behavior that a parent knows is somehow not typical often needs support and knowledge. Parents need to know that it is in their hands to give their child the life they require to learn to cope. And that often means diagnosis, therapy and medication.

One of the greatest fallacies I encounter is parents thinking these medications are addicting or unnecessary. Another is that their children are “really smart,” as if that speaks against mental illness. There is no evidence that mental illness and low IQ are synonymous. In fact, the opposite is true. These children usually range in the high IQ level — very, very smart to put it simply.

I specialize in depression, bipolar, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and ADHD for the very purpose that families do not always know where to turn or what to do.

I began the parenting classes for the depleted parents in our community. I want to help take the stigma off mental illness, and help families to know they are not alone. Some families see their children get so far into maladaptive patterns of behavior that there are runaways, suicide attempts and hospitalizations. The stress this puts on parents is excessive.

Who is going to tell them they are not alone? Who will listen and share information to assist them? I simply hope to do my small part.

Can we help get families to the other side of trials? For those who hold faith as important, can we encourage them that “we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Because I know my own suffering naturally led to perseverance even though I thought I would die from the trials as I walked through them. But on the other end, I did develop perseverance and resilience — then came the character and hope.

I hope to assist parents and individuals in our community in feeling supported as they develop their own perseverance, understand the disorders their children may have, develop character as they trudge through the mire, and gain knowledge as they get more answers.

I pray they finally find hope — the hope that perhaps this is going to be all right after all. And then one day, they in turn, will be so highly educated by life experience that they help other families distressed and unknowing of what is taking over their family member through their own story.

We will be discussing bipolar disorder at the Nov. 3 class. My hope is that it will help someone in our community.

The Rev. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice and can be reached by email at, or by mail at Kimberlie Zakarian Therapy, Inc. 2233 Honolulu Ave. Ste 310, Montrose, CA 91020.

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