How to Talk to Families About Child and Adolescent Mental Illness

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Diane T. Marsh, Melissa J. Marks
W.W. Norton
252 pages. $21.95 paperback.

Six million children and adolescents in the United States – one in every 10 – suffer serious mental disturbance. Only one in five receives necessary services. Untreated disorders lead to school failure, substance abuse, violence and suicide, but youth are not the only victims. Families endure devastating struggles to support their mentally ill children.

In this accessible handbook, therapist and psychology professor Diane T. Marsh and teacher educator Melissa J. Marks empower mental health practitioners and educators to help such families navigate schools and mental health systems during complicated treatment.

Practitioners – from psychologists to school teachers – are offered clear direction for coordinating treatment plans, coaching families to cope with the illnesses while finding support for themselves, and guiding families through the maze of choices of care.

Separate chapters cover four major illnesses: anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Sample case descriptions, statistics, symptoms, risk factors, treatments, strategies and resources are detailed. “Illustrative sessions” demonstrate issues to address with parents.

Marsh and Marks set the bar high for a family-driven approach to treating child and adolescent mental illnesses with sensitivity and respect for cultural and individual differences. Although a majority of young people recover from serious mental illnesses to lead productive adult lives, those who don’t – much like foster children who age out of child welfare – find transition to adulthood difficult. Without treatment, they are at risk of involvement in crime, substance abuse or suicide. Until a proposed “comprehensive service system” for youth aged 19 to 25 in transition to the adult mental health system becomes a reality, the authors urge practitioners to begin planning their clients’ transitions at age 17.

This guidebook is also for parents and even mentally ill adolescents for the sense of hope it offers. (800) 233-4830,