How Faith Workers Can Help
When a child receives a mental illness diagnosis such as ADHD, Autism, anxiety, or depression, the family might feel like their whole world has completely changed. A diagnosis can bring many emotions. The parents may feel relieved, confused, overwhelmed, angry, resentful, or a whole host of other emotions. The child may feel confused and scared by the doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions. Siblings may wonder what is happening to their brother or sister or may resent the attention their sibling is receiving. There is also the stigma that still surrounds a mental illness diagnosis which can make parents feel like they need to keep their child’s diagnosis a secret. The family’s world suddenly feels like it’s been thrown into complete disarray.
A family’s religious beliefs and community are often a source of hope and support in the midst of the difficulties and changes the family is facing in light of their child’s diagnosis. As a faith worker, you play a key role in helping the family navigate the changes this diagnosis brings to their family and you have the unique opportunity to serve as the touch point to the family for hope, community, and resources. And throughout the process, you can help de-stigmatize mental illness.
One of the most powerful roles you can serve for the family of a child who has just been diagnosed is to be a source of hope. With a new diagnosis and the whirlwind of emotions that follow, the family can feel like their whole world is turned upside down. The expectations and future they had planned for the family may no longer look the same. They are wondering what their future will look like. Will they be able to go on family vacations? Will their child be able to live independently? How will the siblings react to this change? Will the parents’ relationship be negatively impacted by the stress? The family is looking for answers and sometimes those answers are hard to find. Sometimes, it is hard for those who are going through difficulties to see how they can hope.
As a faith worker, you can help the family tap into the unique source of hope that your faith brings. Especially in the case of a mental health diagnosis or chronic illness, a cure may not be something the family can hope for but you can help them access a deeper kind of hope - the hope that, even if a cure isn’t possible, they can hope for answers, support, and an opportunity to turn a struggle and difficult experience into something meaningful. You can help instill hope in the family that they can work through this unexpected change and emerge closer together as a family.
Provide Social Support
Coping with the changes of a mental illness diagnosis can be isolating. Parents and children are busy with school meetings, therapy appointments, and doctors’ visits. They may feel disconnected from their social circles. They may feel that others don’t understand what they are experiencing. Or they may feel like others are judging them based on misconceptions about mental illness. Faith workers can help bridge the gap between the family and the community by providing a source of social support, linking them to families who may be experiencing something similar, and providing spiritual and emotional support.
Connect to Resources
Families whose child has just received a diagnosis often aren’t sure where to turn. Their child has been diagnosed but not what? They may be unsure about where or how to seek treatment. Just receiving a diagnosis can be a lot to cope with and they may be feeling overwhelmed by the next steps. Since faith workers are often connected to many professionals in the community, you can help families take the first step towards accessing resources whether that would be referring them to a support group, trusted therapist, community resource center, or all three. You can also help them see the benefit of accessing these services and can dispel any misconceptions they may have about seeking services. You can destigmatize seeking treatment and accessing support for mental illness.
For families of faith, their faith community can play a pivotal role in the diagnosis, treatment process, and family life changes. As a faith worker, you are the bridge connecting these families to the support and resources they may not know about. You can empower them to embrace the changes in their life that their child’s diagnosis brings and can help them tap into the hope that they will grow stronger as a resilient family.
Your encouragement during these difficult times can help the family have the courage to keep moving forward even when it seems like everything is going wrong. Your counsel, supportive words, and listening ears are a beacon of light and stability when everything else in their life seems like it’s up in the air. You have unique gifts and a special role to play in the life of a family whose child just received a mental health diagnosis.