Caring for a child with a mental illness must be one of the most challenging tasks for any parent and much more so when resources are limited and when society does not understand the condition.

An elderly mother presented with vomiting for over a month and severe loss of weight. A detailed history and examination revealed that the mother was suffering from the severe stress of caring for a seventeen year old son, who was severely mentally challenged. The young man also had epilepsy and had a low anger threshold. He would lash out and become uncontrollably aggressive when he didn’t get things his way. He would break and smash things. When his anger abated, he would return to a state of total calm, completely oblivious of the mayhem he had caused a few minutes ago.

The mother, unfortunately, is the person who bears the brunt of the child’s erratic, violent and often times unpredictable behaviour because of her unique instinctual love for her troubled child.

People, who are not aware of children who display this type of behaviour, tend to have no patience with them and tend to make the common mistake of addressing them like mature youth or grownups, labelling them as spoilt brats, accusing them of being rude and badly behaved. Little do adults, with this incorrect perception realise that these are individuals with the mentality of five-year old children trapped in teenage bodies. These children lack the emotional maturity of other normal children their age. They are big in stature, physically, but in their minds they are children with little chance of growing.

These children cannot be treated with medication; they need to be handled with understanding, compassion and lots of love. Often, except for the mother, most people cannot cope with these children, not even their own families. However, there are people, who are trained and have a great deal of experience to deal with such children but they are far too few to meet the demand.

Families with such children need to observe certain principles when dealing with them. These children must not be provoked, teased or made fun of. If they are angry, they must not be scolded or shouted at. Sometimes, just putting an arm around them in a reassuring way is all that is needed.

If, however, they have a tendency to become violent and aggressive all the time or are a danger to family members, they should be assessed by an empathic mental health practitioner, who could put the child on a tranquilizer to make life more bearable for the families and carers of such children.