Mental Health Concerns
Mental Health Concerns
by Dr. Anne Rafal
Dr. Rafal Says:
First of all, your question shows your deep concern for your child, and your situation is one that many parents can relate to. You mention that your son is struggling. How so? What kind of acting-out behavior? Over how long a time period? Any change of behavior that lasts two weeks or more may be reason for concern.
Is he having trouble with friends? Concentration or school work? How are his sleep, eating, and energy level? Depending on the answers to these questions, your son may need to be evaluated by a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist for depression, anxiety, or severe adjustment problems.
If you are not getting the information you need directly from your son, you may also want to speak with teachers, youth group directors, and other adults in your child’s life to gain insight.
If your son won’t talk with you about what is going on, though, the following guidelines may help you open up the communication:
Listen more than you speak. Try to spend twice as much time listening as talking. This is especially important when talking to teenagers, who may tell us more if we are silent long enough to give them the opportunity.
Accept your child’s feelings. How does he feel about being gay? Where is he in the process of accepting his identity? What has the response been by family and friends to his coming out? Do you think the response to his coming out was what he had hoped for?
Make time to spend together. You can have a conversation over breakfast and dinner. Offer to take him or pick him up from activities; this will provide opportunities for conversations.
Keep up with their interests. Listen to his music, watch his television shows with him, and turn up to their activities. There is a balance to keep in mind; try to be interested without being intrusive.
If your child is still not able to talk to you, consider if there is a friend or adult who he can talk to. Are there adults in the school, a teacher or guidance counselor perhaps, who are supportive of your son? Will you need to assist or support him in arranging for this to happen?
Make sure your son knows you love him, accept him for who he is, and are there to support him. Acknowledge how difficult it must have been to come to you and others and that you are proud of his strength. This is a message he needs to hear repeatedly.
Should you choose to seek professional support for your son, be sure he understands that being gay is not a reason for treatment per se, but that he may need help coming to terms with his own identity and navigating our culture's reactions to it. Many individuals are depressed before they come out and over time, things improve for them.
You should also consider whether you should you reach out for help yourself. You may want to consider counseling for yourself with or without other family members. The more comfortable you become/are with your son’s identity, the more able you will be to support his struggles and triumphs.
The web, as well as agencies and professionals, can be a great source of support for your son and for you. Parents and families need support as well, and all states and many cities in the U.S. have Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gay (PFLAG) chapters and support groups. Above all, remember that, as Dan Savage says on his website, (www.itsgetbetter.org) it gets better.
Dr. Rafal has a doctorate degree from the University of Maryland School of Social Work and Community Planning and over twenty years of professional experience in counseling, supervision, educating, mentoring, and agency consulting. She has worked at several child-welfare and mental health agencies in Texas, Virginia, Maryland, and Missouri. Anne directed the Frost Counseling Center in Rockville, Maryland for many years and has social work experience at the University of Virginia Health System and coordinated Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gay (PFLAG) activities in Charlottesville, Virginia.