What if a parent ALSO has mental health issues?

Apple far from treeToday, we offer the seventh segment of our Winter 2014 blog series Including Kids and Teens With Mental Illness at Church, with a look at the challenges presented when kids with mental illness have parents with significant mental health conditions that interfere with the entire family’s ability to attend church.

I’ve never been out hunting, golfing or skiing, despite the reality that a fair number of my friends and neighbors engage in all of those activities on a regular basis. Why not? Neither my family nor my wife’s family ever did any of those IMG00032-20090507-2122activities when we were young. My father was an athlete as a young man who took me with him during my growing up years when he worked as a public address announcer in stadiums and arenas near our home. My experiences attending sporting events with my dad probably explains why my free time as an adult has been spent as a disgruntled season ticket holder for our three “professional” sports teams here in Cleveland. What we do with our parents in our youth forms traditions  and routines that we in turn share with our kids.

Any effective strategy to include kids with mental illness or trauma histories at church needs to take into consideration the barriers that have excluded the child’s parents or caregivers from attending church. After all, if Mom or Dad aren’t coming to church, it’s highly unlikely that their kids will be coming to church. And when we’re talking about kids experiencing mental health concerns that keep them from church, there’s a reasonable possibility that their mother or father experienced or continue to experience similar difficulties that kept them from attending church.

60-90% of the risk for ADHD is attributable to genetics. Roughly one in three children of parents with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression will develop a serious mental illness…and not necessarily the same mental illness as their parent. A parental history of anxiety (especially maternal history) contributes to a two to seven-fold increase in the risk for anxiety in their offspring. When we take into consideration the impact of our children’s and youth ministry environments in our inclusion strategy for kids with mental illness, we should also consider the impact of the ministry environments their parents need to navigate.

Here’s an illustration I shared during a recent church training…it’s a great exercise for pastors or ministry leaders in thinking about just how many potential barriers to church participation exist for families in which a child and/or a parent experience significant mental health concerns…

ID-100111764Debbie is a single mom living down the street from your church with her twelve year-old daughter and eight year-old son. Her son (completely neurotypical) is invited to your Vacation Bible School by one of his friends from school, has a great time and wants his family to come to church every week. Debbie has Social Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia, while her daughter has Separation Anxiety Disorder. 

What difficulties might Debbie experience in…

  • Navigating her way around church for her first few visits?
  • Registering her kids for age-appropriate ministry activities?
  • Sitting through a worship service in a sanctuary/auditorium filled to near capacity?
  • Responding to a welcoming phone call from your hospitality team?
  • Participating in a small group?
  • Participating in a family service activity?
  • Participating in a multi-family activity?

What difficulties might Debbie’s daughter experience in…

  • Separating from her mother for her age-appropriate worship service?
  • Attending the middle school retreat?
  • Participating in the middle school mission trip?
  • Doing the weekend “lock-in” at church?

Ministry to kids with mental illness is frequently (out of necessity) family ministry.

Next: What might an effective solution look like? 

Photos courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net.
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Anxious kidKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource page for church leaders and parents addressing the topic of Anxiety and Spiritual Development. This page includes our blog series on the topic, Dr. Grcevich’s presentation at the 2013 McLean Accessibility Summit and links to lots of helpful resources.  Click here to access the page!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
This entry was posted in ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Ministry Environments and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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