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Rick and Kay Warren Discuss How to Raise a Child with Mental Illness

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Last October, in honor of World Mental Health Day, Rick and Kay Warren sat down to discuss an issue close to their hearts: raising children with mental illness.


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Lindsay Elizabeth

Pastor Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church, and his wife, Kay, are not ones to shy away from the topic of mental health awareness. Last October, in honor of World Mental Health Day, the two sat down to discuss an issue close to their hearts: raising children with mental illness.

On Wednesday, Kay Warren posted a video to her Facebook page in which she and Pastor Rick Warren gave advice to parents with children who have mental illnesses, drawing from both personal and professional experience.

Join us now for World Mental Health Day. Type your questions below and invite your friends to join the conversation. Pastor Rick Warren #WMHD

Posted by Kay Warren on Wednesday, October 10, 2018

In the Facebook video, the couple answered a few questions posed to them on numerous occasions: “How do you as parents balance supporting a child with mental illness and at the same support your other children? How can I help my other children understand what they are going through?”

The Warrens, who are an extremely transparent couple, discussed the 2013 suicide of their then 27-year-old son, Matthew, and pointed out how they handled the situation “poorly” at times.

The first piece of advice Pastor Warren gave was to not treat your kids equally, but uniquely. Calling it “situational leadership,” he added that it’s important to treat children as separate entities because that is what they are.

“Certain people, you draw the best out of them one way, and certain others you draw the best out of them in another way, and every one of your children, of course, are totally different,” he said.

“It is a myth that you will give equal amounts of time to each of your children and to your spouse,” he added. “You don’t want to treat your kids equally; you want to treat each kid uniquely because what works with one child doesn’t work with another. If you treat them all the same way, you’re really not a good parent.”

The pastor explained how children who have mental illnesses are the “squeaky wheel” of the family, which means that sometimes they need more attention than other children. That is why doing “life in seasons” is so important.

“That means, in this particular time, [one child] is in a crisis, [they’re] getting all of my attention,” he explained. “Another time, another child’s going to be in a crisis, and they’re going to get all of my attention.”

“Life is ebb and flow,” the author argued. “It’s a matter of, sometimes they get more, sometimes they get less. But you do have to try to help understand, we all need each other, and we’re all important. It’s OK for someone to get more attention than me in different times of life.”

Often times people treat mental illness as less important than someone with a physical illness because it is not a visible, tangible thing. Warren argues, however, that it’s time we treat them the same.

“You’d obviously compensate in your house to not put stuff in the way of someone who is blind,” he said. “Same thing is true with a mental illness—that we have to compensate for each other. The Bible says to make allowances for each other; that’s a good phrase. It means cutting each other some slack.”

“It’s harder to believe that when someone has a mental illness, because they can’t see it, that they deserve that same kind of accommodation,” Kay Warren added.

“It’s hard,” she said. “You’ve got to just be aware that you may be giving attention right here at this moment, but look for those other times when you can pour into the other kids. And then, helping the kids that don’t have the illness to understand that what their sibling is experiencing is real, it’s genuine, it’s an illness, and it’s worthy of some time and attention.”

The Warrens noted that it can also be hard for children to understand what their siblings are going through if they are dealing with a mental illness. It’s often the case that a child with mental illness might appear like he or she is receiving more attention from the parents, and parents need to learn how to apologize and talk to their other children about this.

During these times, the Warrens stress the importance of calling on God for grace and being “willing to be humble and ask for forgiveness.” This, they say, can  keep “hurt from moving into resentment.”

Not only is it important to pay special attention to your children that don’t have a mental illness, but you must also pay special attention to yourself, and your personal emotions, Rick Warren said.

“You need to have some outlets for your own emotion,” he stated.

He added that it is important for parents to have time for themselves, where they can do an activity that relieves the heavy stress of the day.

The Warrens both pointed out how important it is for the church to step in and attack the mental health crisis taking place around the world.

“We believe the church should be leading the way in compassion and removing the stigma, and in helping people in pain,” Rick Warren stated.

“There’s a role for everybody in Mental Health Day and caring for people living with mental health illness,” Kay Warren said. “Simply being aware that so many people around you are living with a mental illness. If you walk through life with that awareness, then you’re going to be kinder, you’re going to be more gracious to people, you’re going to be more forgiving, less judgmental.”

The Warrens have been vocal about their personal ties to mental health over the years, frequently speaking about it in their church.

“There are mental health laws in this country that are not fair, mental health care isn’t covered at the same rate as physical health care,” Kay Warren said. “Health is health … use your voice to speak up for those who are vulnerable.”


If you know someone who is struggling with mental health issues, or suicidal thoughts the hotline is 1-800-273-8255.