Linda Lewis Griffith

Does your adult child need medical help? Here’s what to do

Parents can employ a number of strategies to get adult children dealing with mental health issues the help they need, according to retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith.
Parents can employ a number of strategies to get adult children dealing with mental health issues the help they need, according to retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith. Detroit Free Press

A reader in Massachusetts recently wrote to me. Her 28-year-old son was living at home and was having trouble with cleanliness, self-care and personal organization. He had been previously hospitalized in a psychiatric facility.

“He doesn’t not like me telling him what to do,” the reader wrote. “But he has trouble opening his mail and paying his bills. He does not want to see any medical professionals.”

This reader’s situation is heartbreaking but certainly not unique. Many parents struggle with adult children who refuse to get the psychiatric or medical care they need.

The reasons for this reluctance are varied and complex. Some adult children may feel as if they are failures. They may be ashamed about their behavior and condition.

They may deny that there anything is wrong. They may worry about the stigma of mental illness and be afraid about what others will think. Or they may be so overwhelmed by their condition that seeking help is an impossible task.

A study that appeared in the 2014 International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences identified additional reasons for non-adherence to psychiatric treatment, including the cost and ill effects of treatment.

In addition, patients forget to take their medication and don’t understand the benefits of that medication, while physicians fail to explain basic information about the medication, the study found.

When adult children refuse to get the treatment they need, they often turn to their parents to provide them with shelter and emotional and financial support. Moms and dads may then find themselves caught in a battle with both their grown children and medical and psychiatric professionals in their attempts to secure appropriate care.

While the task can seem long and daunting, there are strategies parents can employ to help adult children get into treatment.

Identify the behaviors that concern you. Gently and compassionately discuss your adult child’s poor financial skills, inability to hold a job, inadequate hygiene or lack of social contacts. Avoid blaming, lecturing or haranguing.

Understand reasons why your grown child refuses care. Listen carefully to their fears or rationale. Don’t argue. Simply take in what they say.

Express your undying love. Most low-functioning adult children have experienced a lifetime of failures and disappointments. They need to know you still love them and that you’re on their team.

Set limits on their behavior. Adult children who are living in your home must follow any and all guidelines you establish. For instance, they may never threaten you or anyone else verbally or physically. They may not take things without your permission. They may not use illegal drugs. If they fail to comply, you are free to ask them to leave.

Discuss logistics for treatment. Perhaps you’re willing to pay for adult children’s counseling. Or you’ve located a rehab center that accepts your insurance.

Enlist support of family and friends. You’re not alone in this quest. There are community, social and medical resources available to assist you.

Take charge when necessary. If adult children are ever in danger of harming themselves or anyone else, dial 911, take to them to the nearest emergency room or call the police.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a retired marriage, family and child therapist who lives in San Luis Obispo. Reach her at
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