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How to Help a Grown Kid Facing a Crisis

The early 20s is a high-risk time for emerging adults. Here's what concerned parents can do

One way for parents to find mental health resources is to consult the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI's website contains information on a wide range of mental health disorders, including medication and treatments available for each disorder. It also includes contact information for programs and services pertaining to specific issues. In addition, you can locate local and state NAMI chapters, where you can connect with other parents whose children have faced similar problems.

Parents whose kids have had mental health treatment during adolescence may find that their children refuse to continue treatment upon becoming legal adults at age 18. "You see them wanting to get away from the mental health system," says Jane Malkiewich, a clinical social worker in Massachusetts who specializes in treating emerging adults. "They've been in group homes and mental hospitals, and now they want to break away." Leaving treatment can lead to deeper trouble, but Malkiewich believes it can sometimes be a positive step. "It can be a problem, but it can also be an opportunity. Treatment is not something that you do to people; you have to engage people in treatment." The consequences of leaving treatment may lead young people back into treatment, this time with a new commitment because it's their choice and not something forced on them.

Parents might find it frustrating that their influence diminishes as their children move from the teens to the 20s. If their emerging adults are having serious problems, concerned parents naturally feel like they want to step in to save the day and spare their child from harm. However, for grown kids the transition to making more of their own decisions can be empowering, and ultimately it can improve their chances of dealing successfully with their problems. Parents might have become used to assuming their children need help and skeptical that they can succeed on their own. Some can't, of course, especially those with the most serious mental health disorders, but others may develop new, unexpected strengths once they feel they have greater control over their own lives.

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is a research professor of psychology at Clark University and author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties. Elizabeth Fishel is a widely published writer on family issues and the author of four nonfiction books, including Sisters and Reunion. They are working on a parents' guide to emerging adulthood, to be published by Workman in 2012.

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