4/4/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

Their grandson’s mental health needs are immense and affecting the entire family, and the question of the best way to address his needs is driving a wedge between the grandparents and their son. See what the advice columnist Amy Dickinson has to say in this edition of “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy:

Our middle school-age grandson has struggled with behavioral issues for most of his life. He now has been diagnosed with serious mental illness.

The family is reeling. He is unsafe to both himself and others. Few options are available for a person this young, and the expense for treatment is far out of reach for the family.

Other children in the family are being affected.

As grandparents, we’ve been asked to help with the financial part of a very costly potential residential treatment that we aren’t comfortable with, not only because of the cost, but also because it wouldn’t address the dynamics of the family.

The boy’s father – our son – is angry that we aren’t on board with paying for this treatment.

We don’t believe that a child with his degree of illness can be sent away to be “fixed.” We see this as a long-term process that our grandson, his parents, siblings, and extended family will need ongoing help with.

What can we do?

Feeling Helpless

Dear Feeling Helpless:

Early intervention is important, and I agree that these parents should commit to a family-centered approach.

However, your reasoning might be backward.

sad boy Photo by Stanislav Tiplyashin Dreamstime

If your adolescent grandson is an immediate risk to himself and others, then a residential treatment program might be the best option for him right now.

However, any treatment program should start with a comprehensive professional assessment.

If they already have a diagnosis, then they could check with their local medical center, university, and county mental health department to research the best options for him.

They can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA also has a Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator on its website that can be searched by location.

I agree that it is highly unrealistic to expect to send a boy with severe mental illness away to be “fixed,” but whether he receives in-patient or out-patient treatment should be determined by the medical and mental health professionals engaged in his care, as well as his parents’ capabilities.

They must carefully research any residential programs they are considering, and only choose a program with a proven and compassionate approach, as well as a stellar reputation.

You have a deep concern for your grandson’s mental health needs and the welfare of the entire family, but you should ask yourself if your current stance is most helpful during this crisis.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from a grandson’s mental health needs to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. 

More from “Ask Amy”: Disciplining grandkids

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

Click here to read more Ask Amy columns curated for a baby boomer audience. 

Amy Dickinson