As their children struggle with mental health problems, parents and caregivers are frequently overwhelmed and unsure about how to respond. This program illuminates the unique perspective and role of parents and caregivers, offers some concrete guidance to parents, and highlights support and advocacy organizations that were created by parents, for parents, such as Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children and Operation: PARENT.
This program from the You Are Not Alone series is part of KET’s Inside Youth Mental Health initiative, funded in part by grants from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Kentucky Department of Education.
Resa and Shawn Gonzales/Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children
In second grade, Shawn Gonzales began to act out in high-intensity tantrums. A gifted student, he was soon diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. His mother Resa was by Shawn’s side all of the way and, through strong parenting and finding the right combination of medications, he has made great strides.
Now in high school, Shawn has a bright future and maintains a strong relationship with his mother. He has also benefited from a connection to the Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children, a state-wide support, training and advocacy organization dedicated to families with behavioral health challenges, where Resa now works.
Resa advises parents who are in a similar situation with their kids to “don’t think that you did anything wrong, that it’s a failing in you, that you have failed your child.” She says that Shawn “is what he is, in all of his glorious wonder – and your child is, too.”
“And find support. Really, you need somebody to understand. Because not everybody gets it,” she adds.
Parent/Mentor Focus Group
Six parents and mentors of youth with mental health challenges meet at the Frazier History Museum to discuss how they have learned to both support their children and work toward finding solutions.
There are many factors that contribute to mental health issues in young people, says Ginger Shouse, director of the Kentucky River Regional Prevention Center. “They could be isolated from their family, maybe they have substance abuse, or they’re withdrawn, they’re not sleeping. It’s spending that time with them so they’re not isolated, and looking at all of those factors – and then when you do determine the risk factors, ask what do they have that you can put in their place?
“Do they have a mentor at school, like a teacher, is there a pastor, or are there positive friends? What can we take and build upon to make those kids feel empowered – so they do have a sense of hope, instead of the hopelessness that we see so much.”
When Amanda Gale was a teenager, she began to lash out at her parents, coming to a point where her mother, Jean, gave Amanda an ultimatum to move out. Now, over a decade later, mother and daughter are working together in Operation Parent, based on Oldham County, to assist other families from all backgrounds who are working through issues with their children.
Operation Parent is a parent-driven organization providing comprehensive resources and services to engage parent and child alike in proactive, productive communication that addresses the toughest challenges facing teens in today’s media-saturated culture. Jean Schumm founded Operation Parent after feeling overwhelmed while raising her five children, and has made it her life’s mission to use the knowledge she gained to help other parents.
Jean reflects on how she felt then, back when she and her daughter were in conflict, and how that feeling has shaped her own approach with Operation Parent: “I felt that my kids were going off in directions I never would have seen happen,” she says. “I needed somebody to tell me, ‘Don’t give up, Jean. You’re still in the game. Don’t isolate yourself.’ That’s what I was starting to do, I was starting to believe that the kids and the culture were stronger than I was, and they’re not listening.
“That’s the message we want to get to parents: that you are the number one influencer in your child’s life. Don’t ever lose that.”