You’re pretty sure your grandchild has a mental health, behavioral, or a substance use issue. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), suicidal thoughts, oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder (BD), or another mental health issue, you’re certain they need treatment, whether it’s at a residential home, a long-term mental health facility, or an intensive outpatient program.
The problem is, their parent – your own child – won’t listen to you. Perhaps they don’t think the issue is as serious as you do. Maybe they’re just chalking it up to typical teenage behavior. Or maybe they themselves struggle with mental health issues and can’t see what’s obvious to you. Depression and anxiety affect millions of people in the U.S., so there’s a chance your own children might be one of them.
You tried other tactics, such as talking to your son-in-law or daughter-in-law and showing them articles about teenage mental health. You got other people – siblings, friends, your spouse – to speak to them. Nothing has worked. Worse, it’s created distance between you and your child, and now they’re resisting bringing the grandkids for visits.
You feel like your hands are tied.
What are your options?
In A Mental Health Emergency, Always Call 911
First, we need to emphasize an important point.
If your teen is suffering from a life-threatening mental health issue such as suicidality, and you’re worried about them taking their own life, call 911 for immediate help. It doesn’t matter that their parents don’t consent. If it’s an emergency, you can make the call. The police will transport your grandchild to a mental health hospital or emergency room. If admitted, they will receive inpatient treatment. Then, the hospital social worker will follow up with their parents to recommend the next steps. This typically involves residential treatment, but depends on the individual.
What if your grandchild isn’t suffering from a mental health emergency, but is obviously struggling on a day-to-day basis?
Can you bring them to a teen treatment center yourself?
Unfortunately, no – unless you’re their legal guardian.
Parents Need to Consent to Teen Treatment
In the U.S., a legal guardian of the minor must consent to mental health treatment. Therefore, if the parents aren’t on board, there’s not much you can do.
Additionally, parents need to buy into treatment for other reasons: their direct involvement influences the success of your grandchild’s recovery.
Megan Johnston, LMFT, admissions director at Evolve Treatment Centers for Teens in Los Angeles, says parents need to be involved in any program they enroll their child in, whether it’s through family therapy, multifamily groups, parent support groups and so forth.
“We are constantly telling families that the outcome of their children is dependent on their own participation throughout the program,” Johnston says.
That means that even if you convince your children to send your grandchild to a teen treatment center, they have to be willing to participate in the program, too. Otherwise, there’s only so much progress your grandchild will make independently.
Talk to Your Grandchild
So, what is in your control when it comes to getting help for your struggling grandson or granddaughter?
Specifically, talking to them.
After sharing your concerns, implore them to speak with a licensed mental health counselor – whether it’s their school psychologist or another clinician in private practice. If you think it would help, offer to pay for the initial session (if possible) just to make sure your grandchild has no barriers preventing them from making that appointment. You can also offer to find them transportation to that initial appointment if they don’t yet drive.
Additionally, it would be helpful to connect your teen with various mental health resources, whether in-person or online. For example, if you suspect your teen is struggling with substance use, give them details of AA or NA meetings (there are even some online).
NAMI support groups are also helpful for teens struggling with mental health issues. Lastly, ask them if they’ve ever heard of the Crisis Text Line, which offers free, 24/7 crisis counseling for teens and adults.
To access, text HOME to 741741.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also a useful resource, both for those struggling with mental health issues and their loved ones: call 1-800- 273-8255.