How to help adult children struggling with mental health

If kids aren’t local, Dr. Palmiter said, parents can arrange for a weekly phone call or FaceTime and wait for that connection to be established before discussing the topic of getting help.

Ms Garrone said that if parents fear a young adult may commit suicide or harm others, it would be appropriate to act immediately and call 9-1-1.

Parents should avoid the temptation to lecture, which comes across as criticism and can shut down communication, Dr. Palmiter said. Instead, he suggested a sequence he called “Pain, Empathy, Question”. Start by asking questions that help parents understand how the young adult is hurting, with language like: “How’s your mood these days? You’re going through a lot.”

The next step, empathy, may promote more open sharing. If a child complains that their boss is yelling at them all the time, don’t step in and try to solve the problem. Instead, say, “It’s terrible to go to work and yell at it when you’re working as hard. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this.” Then the parents can raise the issue of getting support.

If that doesn’t make a child more open to help, she said don’t fight it. Instead, “If you ever change your mind, I’d be happy to partner with you to think of possible solutions.”

Laura Dollinger of Beaver, PA, tried this approach. She began to worry about her daughter Emily’s mental state after two disturbing incidents: a breakup with her boyfriend in November of 2018 and the loss of her best friend in a car accident in February 2019. A simple student, Emily, now 19, said she “began pushing people away, slept a lot, skipped classes, and made friends with people who filled their emptiness with unhealthy things.” Worried about her daughter, Ms. Dollinger received the recommendation of a good doctor.

“My mom presented it in a non-threatening way; I knew she cared for me and loved me,” said Emily Dollinger. She took the recommendation and said that her counselor helped her develop healthy coping skills, which she used to deal with a recent breakup. The differential therapy was “night and day,” said Laura Dollinger.

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