Millions of people live with mental health disorders. As parents, it can be difficult to know how best to support your adult children with mental illness, because you may not understand how best to meet their needs and give them the autonomy that comes with adulthood. Understanding your loved one’s condition is often the first and most important step in providing the support and love that they need.

Adult Children with Mental Illness Statistics

Mood and personality disorders affect the lives of millions of people every day. Depression and anxiety are two of the most widely diagnosed conditions – especially among young adults in the 21st century. 

  • 50% of mental illness begins in childhood by age 14 & 75% begins by age 24 in young adulthood
  • 1 in 5 young adults aged 18-25 experience a serious mental illness
  • 21% of young adults – ages 18-29 experience depression
  • 9.9% of 15- to 24-year-old deaths are from suicide
  • At least 8.4 million people in the US provide care to an adult with a mental or emotional issue

Mental Health Stigmas

Stigma has always surrounded mental illness even though 1 in 4 Americans has a mental health issue. Despite the prevalence of mental illness, often people will avoid seeking care because they are ashamed or embarrassed. In supporting an adult child with mental illness these factors seem to be the most prevalent in barriers to care.

  • Young adults experience embarrassment in admitting they have a mental illness
  • Limited availability and affordability of mental health care services
  • Lack of education of symptoms, types of mental illness and symptoms they are experiencing

Types of Mental Illness

In supporting your adult child with mental illness, it is important to educate yourself about the different types of mental illness and the symptoms involved. When you understand what is affecting your loved one, it can offer support, understanding and hope.

Mood Disorders

Mental illnesses are classified as mood disorders because they impact the way a person feels. There are several common mood disorders.

Major Depressive Disorder: Depression is more than just feeling sad or having a rough time with life issues. Depression is a serious mental illness, which left untreated may cause devastating effects. 16 million adults experience depression. While there is no one cause of depression, a number of factors contribute to its onset, including: trauma, genetics, life circumstances, brain structure, medical conditions, and drug and/or alcohol abuse. 

Symptoms can include:

  • Changes in sleep, appetite, energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness
  • Physical aches/pains

Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar Disorder affects a person’s moods, ability to think clearly, and energy. The two major factors in bipolar disorder are its highs – mania — and lows –depression. The average age of bipolar onset in young adulthood is 25. There are a number of contributing factors for the onset of bipolar disorder, including genetics, environment, stress, and drug or alcohol abuse. 

Symptoms include:

  • Periods of mania or depression including psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions
  • Irritability, impulsive behavior, reckless decisions
  • An inability to realize the negative consequences of actions

Anxiety Disorders: These disorders can include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobias. Extreme feelings of fear and distress, feeling overwhelmed and unable to carry out simple life tasks are common factors in anxiety disorders. 

Symptoms can include:

  • Emotional symptoms – feelings of apprehension, dread, tension, restlessness, irritability
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger
  • Physical symptoms – pounding or racing heart, shortness of breath
  • Upset stomach, sweating, tremors
  • Fatigue and Insomnia

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: 7.7 million Americans experience PTSD. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men. The average age of onset is around age 20 years old. Traumatic events, military combat, assault, and accident or natural disaster can contribute to the development of PTSD.

Symptoms can include:

  • Intrusive memories, flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts
  • Avoidance behaviors – staying away from objects or places that induce unwanted memories or thoughts
  • Dissociation – an out of body feeling
  • Hypervigilance – being frightened easily, feeling extreme tension, trouble sleeping, angry outbursts

Personality Disorders

Personality Disorders are related to ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. An individual’s personality is based on many things:

  • Experiences
  • Environment
  • Inherited characteristics

While personality disorders and mood disorders are both mental health conditions – there are differences. Mood disorders are about patterns in people’s emotions and personality disorders are revolved on the ways people relate to others. 

Personality disorders include a range of conditions that include:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: shows a pattern of disregarding or violating the rights of others
  • Avoidant Personality Disorder: extreme shyness, feelings of inadequacy and extreme sensitivity
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: patterns of instability in personal relationships, intense emotions
  • Dependent Personality Disorder: displays a pattern of needing to be taken care of
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder: patterns of excessive emotions and attention seeking

Diagnosing a personality disorder requires evaluation by a mental health professional who will examine long term patterns, functioning and symptoms. Because children are still developing, personality disorders are generally not diagnosed until an individual has reached adulthood – even if symptoms were present during childhood. This is often why supporting an adult child with a mental illness can take time, patience and understanding. 

Causes of Mental Illness in Adult Children

What Causes mental IllnessThere is not one universal individual cause that leads to the development of a mental health disorder. Generally, there are a number of factors that contribute to the onset of these conditions. 

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors can affect mental health directly. These factors can cause stress, anger, irritability, depression and negatively impact mental health. These social or economic circumstances that affect exposure to stressors have impact on relationship, stressful life events and psychological distress. Other factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Substance Abuse
  • Pollution
  • Exposure to toxins in childhood
  • Dysfunctional living conditions and relationships

Genetic Factors

Studies have proven that many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families. Research conducted through the years has found that the risk of developing an illness is increased if another family member is similarly affected. When supporting an adult child with mental illness, looking into your family history could prove to be helpful insight. 

Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs and alcohol are one of the five main risk factors included with complicating mental illness. Drugs known to exacerbate mental health conditions, or contribute to the onset of disorders, include:

  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Mephedrone
  • MDMA
  • Cannabis
  • LSD
  • Psilocybin

How to Support Your Adult Children with Mental Illness

Educating yourself so that you can support your adult child with mental illness will allow you to see the entire scope of how mental illness affects your adult child’s life. Sharing your knowledge without being overbearing and judgmental is crucial. Unconditional love and good listening skills will allow your adult child with mental illness to feel comfortable discussing what’s going on.

Asking your adult child if you can help with any daily tasks, if there’s any way you can help with the daily struggles and just showing that you are there for them and willing to take on a clear supportive role with their recovery and treatment is reassuring and positive. Stay connected with your adult child to offer encouragement and support.

Mental Health Treatment in Southern California

If you are supporting an adult child with a mental illness and you would like to discuss how we can help you through this journey, contact us today. Launch Centers offers many individual options to help you with your concerns with your adult child and offers evidence-based treatments, and caring and compassionate counselors to help you and your loved one find relief from their symptoms. For more information about our mental health treatment options, contact us today.

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Clients and Professionals Share Their Experience

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    Launch Centers Treatment was a major help to me. The therapists and staff genuinely cared about me and truly helped me to make a plan for my future. My personal therapists helped me to discover where some of my deeper issues came from. All of the staff worked tirelessly with me to talk through my issues, or just about life, and offered realistic solutions to my current problems and situation. All of the staff went above and beyond and advocated relentlessly for me.

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    This place changed my life! I’ve had good laughs, good cries, shared a lot of heart to heart moments and grew a loving bond with everyone at Launch Centers. I will always be grateful! I really do miss it time to time. I highly recommend Launch Centers!

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    Launch changed our lives. Our family had been battling for years to breakthrough to our brother. No amount of rehab or detox had made a difference. He was listless, lifeless and helpless. We feared for his life everyday. The spirit of, repetition in, core values, appreciation of life and dignity and respect that we found through Launch are unparalleled. I can say with full confidence that we never would have seen my “real” brother again if not for this truly magical combination. We were and still are especially grateful for his over-the-top therapist. Her commitment to his privacy and success coupled with her unwavering contact with any and all of us is what bridged our 3,000 mile separation from him.


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