7 Tips for Coping with Your Child’s Unexpected Diagnosis

Every parent imagines that their child will have a healthy life. When a child receives an unexpected medical diagnosis, parents begin the process of adjustment, which is often filled with emotions and an uncertainty about what to do next.

CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist Dr. Sabrina A. Karczewski offers the following tips for parents to cope with unexpected news about their child’s health. The adjustment may take some time, but in most cases the stress does goes down, she says. “Most parents are able to find that equilibrium in their families again.”

sabrina-karczewski-pediatric-psychologist
Dr. Sabrina A. Karczewski, a CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist
  1. Absorb information at your own pace.

 When you receive unexpected news about your child, it can be hard to pay attention to what the doctor is sharing with you. It’s very common to be confused and to forget details.

Keep a list of ongoing questions. It’s okay to ask the same questions over again and to ask for clarification. When you meet with the doctor, have a family member or friend come with you and help write down the information you receive.

“The most important thing is to make sure you understand to the level that you need to,” Dr. Karczewski says. “It’s okay to not fully understand everything immediately.”

  1. Have permission to feel your feelings.

 Learning about your child’s medical condition can bring about feelings similar to the grieving process, such as shock, denial, anger and depression. These are all normal feelings and it’s okay to feel them.

A common reaction is to feel mad at your support people (medical team, family members, etc.). You can rest assured that relationships can be mended to move forward with your child’s medical care, Dr. Karczewski says. Some parents also might feel guilt, whether it’s due to concerns about their own genetics, not having an instinct that something was wrong sooner or attributing early symptoms to something more normal. “I would tell parents, it’s not your fault,” Dr. Karczewski says. “In fact, your child only got diagnosed because you did the right thing by bringing them to a medical doctor.”

Once you’re able to acknowledge your feelings, lean on positive coping skills to work through them. Think about a time that you have coped with another stressful situation and use those same skills that have worked for you, Dr. Karczewski says.

  1. Set limits on your online research.

 Most parents will turn to the Internet at some point during their child’s medical treatment. That’s understandable, but Dr. Karczewski recommends that you set some boundaries.

“The internet is a really wonderful place and it is also a terrifying place,” she says. “Use your medical team as a guide to direct you to reliable and trustworthy resources. I also recommend setting a healthy time limit for your online research so you can have time for other things and also not be consumed. The information will be there tomorrow, it’s okay to put it down for today.”

  1. Prioritize your relationships early.

 “What ends up happening for a lot of parents is they spend their energy on their child with a medical condition, and they neglect their relationship as a couple or with their other children,” Dr. Karczewski says. “Be sure to make time for activities outside of the medical experience, and nurture your other relationships, too.”

  1. Focus on self-care as best as you can.

 While it might feel wrong to focus on yourself instead of your child, you’ll be better able to help them if you take care of your own needs, even in small ways. Take a quick shower, go for a walk or schedule time to do an activity that you enjoy.

  1. Lean on family and friends.

 Dr. Karczewski recommends making a schedule for family and friends to be with you. “Family can be great, but I know they can add stress, and you may not have the space to manage that stress,” she says. “Come up with specific tasks for family members (like making meals or picking up your other kids from school); it helps them give you what you need and not feel like they are getting in the way.”

  1. Seek extra help for yourself if you need it.

 Pay special attention to any feelings that are interfering with your daily functioning and seek mental health services early if needed. Dr. Karczewski explains, “Nobody is born knowing how to handle this. Some of us need additional ideas on how to move forward, and that’s okay.”

Get health and parenting tips sent straight to your inbox

Related posts:

  • A More Positive Approach to Parenting
    “Begin with the end in mind.” The same proactive approach that works so well in business also applies to parenting. Close your eyes and imagine your child at age 25 ...
  • Managing Bedtime with Multiple Kids
    Cara Krenn is a writer, editor, and mom to fraternal twin girls and a singleton boy. She is the author of the e-book Twinthusiasm: Survival Lessons for Your First Year ...

 

 

 

CHOC Teen Advisers Weigh in on NYT Article “Please Stop Merchandising Mental Illness”

In response to a recent New York Times article titled “Please Stop Merchandising Mental Illness,” the CHOC Children’s Teen Advisory Council weighed in on our culture’s tendency to romanticize mental illness. The CHOC Children’s Teen Advisory Council is made up of outstanding teens who are active in their community, committed to academic success, and support CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children.

Armed with examples of what they see and hear in each of their schools, they discuss how each of us can do our part to put an end to the misconception that having a mental illness is trendy.

Do you have other ideas? Leave them in the comments below. We want to hear from you!

Layla, age 13

Slogans and quotes can be printed on a bag or shirt quicker than people can think about what it really means. Sometimes, people can say things before they have a chance to think about what they are saying. For example, a word we use commonly is crazy. It may seem innocent, but crazy can mean different things to different people. We have to be more aware when choosing our words. Instead of using words like crazy and insane, describe something unusual as strange or bizarre. If we make little changes, it can slowly make a difference.

Carina, age 15

Most people don’t fully understand anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses. On social media you find people talking about it all the time, which is great as it brings more awareness and allows people with actual mental illnesses to share their stories. However, it has become almost a cool thing to say on these platforms. Social media and TV shows have a part to play in the growth of mental illnesses being “trendy” and also bringing more awareness to it, but they could do more to provide real education. People don’t understand what mental illness is, and some just believe that anxiety and depression, for example, are just feelings.

I see some of this happening at my school. In most cases I hear the phrase, “Ugh, ______ gives me anxiety” when in reality, they mean stressed and it usually has to do with tests, quizzes or an upcoming presentation. I’m not sure if they do actually have anxiety. However, most people I hear use the term very loosely and should be more careful with their word choice.

Cameron, age 15

It doesn’t surprise me that people romanticize mental illness. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting attention; humans are a social species and attention is essential for self-esteem and social skills. Many people who romanticize mental illness don’t have these illnesses; instead it is them asking for attention or validation. However, people are trying to normalize terms like depression or anxiety, almost in an effort for people to see an exaggerated version of their emotions. Something that comes to mind is a shirt that I’ve seen others wear that depicts an adorable coffee cup with the phrase, “No Coffee Makes Me Depresso” My friend pointed out to me how the shirt was problematic. Odds are that not having coffee doesn’t make this person depressed. I dismissed it as a poor excuse for a joke, but thinking about it, it was a call for attention. Not having coffee doesn’t make you depressed. It may make you upset or even feel a little off, but it doesn’t make you depressed, something experienced by millions of Americans. Depression is a widespread illness that shouldn’t be joked about in this way.

Celebrities are also extremely vocal about mental illness, which can be both good and bad. If many people speak out about mental illness, the suffering can start to seem normal. It then becomes this situation where when someone comes forth with their struggles and they are met with responses like, “So does everyone else” or “It’s not just you” which can invalidate their feelings. After all, it’s normal, right? If there’s nobody with social influence speaking out, who’s going to inspire those struggling by themselves to come forward? Society is complicated, but for now we just need to develop an understanding for each other and extend a helping hand to those who feel helpless.

As a society, we must grow to learn that mental illness is a serious issue, not something that we weave into our everyday lives for the sake of seeming trendy or getting attention. We’re only human and we make mistakes, but it’s time we fix our mistakes.

Alyssa, age 14

My first reaction to these claims is that we should be mindful that people express themselves different ways. We may not agree with how they do it, but it’s best to perceive their actions with some empathy and take the extra step to see if they are trying to reach out. Fashion has always been a form of expression so by people expressing their feelings with a necklace that says “anxiety” or an article of clothing that says “sad” that could be a way of expressing themselves or a cry for help. Mental illness should never be seen as a joke and should be taken seriously. Mental illness should never be trendy and should be talked about more, so if having an article of clothing or a piece of jewelry with the words “anxiety” or “depression” sparks up a conversation, then that’s a positive thing for people who care about helping people with these illnesses because it spreads awareness

Heather, age 14

I believe that having issues or being depressed has become a trend recently for adolescents. A while back, the TV show “13 Reasons Why” became popular with teenagers. The show depicts a girl named Hannah going through depression and eventually committing suicide. In my opinion, anyone watching the show who was going through similar stuff that Hannah was going through, would became sad along with her. I thought the show tossed around words like suicide, rape and depression very casually, making these words’ connotation less severe. When words like that are casually tossed around on popular TV shows and in songs we hear on the radio, people begin to use these words in their everyday conversations without really knowing the effect of their word choice. This trend in conversation leads companies to create backpacks, pins, t-shirts and other merchandise with these words in trendy font because it has become an ideal lifestyle for almost every teenager. Whenever people come across a difficult or stressful situation they often say ‘I’m gonna commit’ or “kms’’ which stands for kill myself. By casually using serious words in everyday conversation, some of these intense mental health situations have been stripped of their true meaning and are being tossed around like a joke. This is unfair to the people that actually struggle with mental health problems.

Learn more about mental health services at CHOC

Related posts:

I’m a Pharmacist. Here’s What I Want you to Know about Mental Health

By Katie Bui, clinical pharmacist at CHOC Children’s

Mental health is an important part of our overall health. It affects our energy level, our ability to connect with family and friends, our confidence, and our performance at school and work. Sometimes, it means taking medicine to help maintain our mental health. These medicines are safe and effective when taken appropriately under a doctor’s supervision.

Take medicine exactly as it’s prescribed

It’s important for patients taking medicines to take them exactly as prescribed. If you closely follow the medication schedule and directions, it will help your doctor know if the medication is working or not. It will also help minimize unwanted side effects from stopping it abruptly. When you take a medicine inconsistently, it is hard to figure out if the medicine is working or not, if the dose needs to be changed, or if your physician should have you try a new medication. If you have trouble sticking to a medication schedule, or if you have trouble helping your children follow their medication schedule, set a daily medicine reminder, plus a refill reminder so you don’t run out of medicine. Using a pill box can help you stay on top of a medication schedule and be mindful of when you’re due for a refill.

Possible side effects of antidepressants

Since these medicines affect the chemicals in the brain, they may take time to work, sometimes up to a month. Sometimes you might experience side effects before seeing positive changes results in mood. Most of these side effects are relatively minor and may include nausea, vomiting or sleepiness. If you experience major side effects like confusion, fever, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, increasing depression or suicidal thoughts, no matter how long you have been on antidepressants, seek immediate medical help. These side effects are rare but it is important to know the signs and symptoms that require emergency treatment.

How mood medications interact with other medications

Sometimes, the medicine you take to treat a mental health condition can interact with other medicines you might be taking. This is another reason to follow the directions as prescribed by a doctor, and to ask your pharmacist any questions you have when you pick up a prescription. For example, mood medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or citalopram (Celexa) can interact with certain antibiotics like linezolid (Zyvox) and cause high fevers and confusion. Others can cause more sleepiness with sedating medicines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and clonazepam (Klonopin). As mentioned earlier, most of these interactions and side effects are rare and patients should talk to their doctors and pharmacists regularly when taking new medicines.

How lifestyle choices may positively impact mental health

Some lifestyle choices can also have a positive impact on your mental health. These can include simple daily activities such as going for a walk and being physically active, eating lunch outside to get fresh air and sunlight, listening to calming music, meditating, yoga and getting enough sleep each night. These activities help with relieving stress, which can directly help with mental health. It’s important to have an ongoing, open and honest conversation with your primary care physician and mental health professional about your mental health, what resources you need, and what lifestyle changes you can make.

-Reviewed by Dr. Hoang (Wayne) Nguyen, medical director of child and adolescent psychiatry at CHOC Children’s

Stay Informed about Mental Health

CHOC Children’s has made the commitment to take a leadership role in meeting the need for more mental health services in Orange County. Sign up today to keep informed about this important initiative.

Related posts:

Mental Health Staff Give Back Through CHOC Walk

Inspired by the care provided to patients and families at CHOC Children’s and the desire to further eliminate the stigma of living with a mental health condition, clinical staff members of the newly opened Mental Health Inpatient Center have formed a team for CHOC Walk in the Park, one of the largest and most anticipated fundraising events of the year. The team will join a crowd of more than 15,000 CHOC supporters for the Walk on Sunday, August 26.

choc-walk-mental-health-team
Select clinical members of the Mental Health Inpatient Center’s CHOC Walk in the Park team.

The team, Stomp Out Stigma, has already organized two fundraisers, with a third in the works, to support their fundraising goal for the Walk. The first two fundraisers were held at local restaurants, with a portion of proceeds going to their team. An upcoming fundraiser, at a local thrift shop, allows community members to drop off and donate household goods such as clothing, books and home supplies in exchange for denominations to the team.

The staff wanted to come together and form a team for the Walk, one of the largest and most visible fundraisers of the year, to further decrease the stigma associated with mental health.

“Mental health has a stigma attached to it, so we wanted to create a team to inspire others to decrease that stigma that can be associated with mental health,” says Kelsey, a clinical nurse in the Center and team captain of Stomp Out Stigma. “We want to promote that mental health is just as important as physical health, and by participating in this Walk as a team, we are helping to bring mental health into a new light.

The team also hopes their participation in CHOC Walk will provide further education about the new Center.

“We want the community to know that Center is a healing, nurturing environment that provides resources to families in need as well as a safe place for children to learn how to cope with their Mental Illness,” Kelsey says. “Mental health is important because it includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

The chance to be part of a patient and family’s healing process is what inspired Kelsey to pursue a nursing career.

“I believe that nursing is simply to give tender loving care while applying it to the everyday concept of medical care,” she says. “I have been a pediatric psychiatric registered nurse for five years. When I learned that CHOC was building a Mental Health Inpatient Center, I wanted to be a part of it since it is my goal to be able to give back to my local community.”

Since joining CHOC’s staff, Kelsey has been inspired by CHOC’s commitment to innovation.

“I’m thoroughly excited to be a part of an ever-changing, excellent organization where our strive is to provide innovative health care to patients and their families. Being the first Mental Health Inpatient Center for children under the age of 12 in Orange County, we are inspired to change the way mental health is viewed through the community as well as the way care is given to our population.”

Register Now!

Related posts:

 

Rising Rates of Children’s Hospital Visits for Suicide Thoughts, Attempts

The percentage of patients seen at U.S. children’s hospitals each year for suicidal thoughts or attempts has increased steadily, according to a recent study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in children and young adults ages 10-24.

Rising rates for suicide thoughts, attempts infographic

Learn the warning signs of suicide in children and adolescents

Mental Health Inpatient Center

Our Mental Health Inpatient Center, which opened in April 2018, is the only center in Orange County that can accommodate children younger than 12. The 18-bed Center is designed for patients ages 3 to 17.

ASPIRE® Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s

This intervention (four afternoons/evenings per week for eight weeks) is intended to prevent psychiatric hospitalization and re-admission in high school teens ages 13-18. CHOC opened the IOP in early 2018.

Mental health screenings in primary care settings and the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital

One-third of all visits to pediatricians are solely for psychological reasons. To support immediate assessment and intervention in primary care, CHOC is providing depression screenings in its own clinics and promoting embedded mental health care in pediatric practices. We also provide depression screenings in the CHOC emergency department.

Mental health triage at the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital

Implemented in fall 2016 with public and private funds, the innovative family-based crisis intervention model helps families address mental health crises and is already reducing psychiatric hospitalizations (25 percent reduction) and time spent in the emergency department (17 percent reduction).

CHOC Children’s is taking a leadership role in tackling the pediatric mental health crisis in Orange County. Half of children with symptoms of mental health disorders have conditions that cause significant impairment in daily life. In Orange County, 20 percent of youth reported needing help for mental health problems, while less than a third actually received that help.

Learn more about CHOC’s commitment to mental health

Related posts:

  • Depression and Suicide Prevention: Know the Warning Signs
    Dr. Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at CHOC Children’s, offers insight on the warning signs of depression and suicide in children and adolescents.
  • Preventing Suicide in Children
    Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, which underscores the importance of recognizing depression and warning signs in youth, CHOC Children’s chief psychologist ...