Homeschooling Teens with Mental Illness

Here is some help for homeschooling teens with mental illness.

Homeschooling Teens with Mental Illness

Homeschooling Teens with Mental Illness

Sometimes it happens. It may be caused by gene code or physiology or trauma but sometimes a family finds themselves homeschooling a teen with mental illness.

This is nothing to be ashamed of. Teens need to know that. Parents need to know that. Homeschooling can be the very best choice for a teen who is suffering. In my years as a counselor and as a homeschool academic advisor, I’ve seen homeschooling high school become part of the healing process.

What is mental illness?

Mental illness is a catch-all phrase to describe all kinds of emotional or cognitive issues (interestingly, the current trend in the insurance industry is to call all mental, cognitive or emotional issues: Behavioral Health Concerns).

Here are the most common examples that I’ve worked with in teens:

These issues can last a short time or be chronic, can be mild, moderate, or severe. This post is not about counseling teens, I want to share some tips that help the educational process of homeschooling teens with mental illness.

  1. Get out of denial.

    1. If your teen is suffering, pretending that they are simply rebellious or “it will pass” or that they aren’t praying enough isn’t going to help.
  2. Develop a support system.

    1. Find a counselor (and often a psychiatrist) that you trust. Keep the family doctor informed so that he/she can be a part of the team. A mentor at church or a life coach is helpful adjunct when available.Human Development
  3. Understand the illness.

    1. When a teen is experiencing mental illness, they feel isolated and have a difficult time understanding themselves. You will have to become a compassionate understand-er and advocate by educating yourself on the illness.
  4. Don’t enable.

    1. Teens who are suffering often feel like isolating themselves, closeting themselves in their rooms and retreating into the world of social media or gaming. As gently and firmly as you can, get them outside (you’ll probably need to accompany them). Do art together. Plant a garden or go to on a field trip together. You are part of the healing process.
  5. Develop a healthy lifestyle and capture it on the transcript.

    1. Take a daily walk together. There is good research that shows that walking (any movement) helps increase dopamine levels (a neurotransmitter that enhances mood). Also sunshine boosts Vitamin D which is a mood stabilizer. Log the hours for phys ed. Here’s a post on how to do that.
  6. Earn the required health credit by learning about the illness and best ways to treat it.

    1. Most of teens who experience mental illness have some level of improvement with healthy diet, plenty of pure water, and 8-10 hours sleep daily (not less or more). Medication often helps. Anxiety de-escalating/mindfulness skills help. Log hours researching the illness and self-care, developing a self-care plan, and learning to implement it. Help empower your teen to manage their illness. Help them learn to think and talk well about themselves and not be ashamed. Log those hours for health credit.
  7. Adjust academic expectations for the year (or longer if necessary).

    1. Put aside that high-powered curriculum and earn the necessary credits in a more light-hearted manner. Listen to audiobooks for at least some of the required booklist, do literature and writing guides that aren’t out to kill the book or stress your teen. Try 7Sisters no-busywork literature and writing guides using the instructions for “Average High School”. Here’s a freebie for reluctant writers that gently takes a teen through their research paper. Westfield Studio’s 101 Series for Science and Pearson Education Pacemaker Math are do-able even in tough years (we are not affiliates, just like their stuff).
  8. Choose social studies for one or two years that helps your teen understand himself/herself (without overwhelming them with a difficult course).

    1. 7Sisters Introduction to Psychology and also Human Development are great courses that cover a social science/social studies credit in a gentle, interesting, encouraging way. Both courses help a teen understand themselves (and God’s love for them).
  9. Keep a master portfolio

    1. to record the richness of your teen’s experiences along with your transcript.
  10. Pray and teach your teen to pray.

    1. (You’d be surprised how many Christian teens don’t pray. Here’s a link to 7Sisters light-hearted, interactive prayer journals.)

Handling Depression in Teens, Interview with Natalie Mack is a recently recorded podcast that can help.

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Homeschooling Teens with Mental Illness

Vicki Tillman

Blogger, curriculum developer at, counselor, life and career coach, SYMBIS guide, speaker, prayer person. 20+year veteran homeschool mom.

18 Replies to “Homeschooling Teens with Mental Illness”

  1. I am considering homeschooling my teen. The stress of a BlueRibbon school academic rigor caused my child to breakdown and self-harm. The doctors from the first and second hospital stay requested the school reduce the work and rigor but the school refused. The diagnosis from the third hospital stay is Dissociative Identity Disorder, There are over 20 voices yelling all the time, and switching between identities mean that key information in school can get missed depending on the personality in control at the time. My child literally cracked from the pressure of school. There is no way my child can attend a regular school without creating more mental health harm and attend the amount of medical and emotional help needed to begin recovery. How can I create or find the best educational support for my teen? Where do we begin?

    • Hi Stephanie,
      First, helping your teen heal is real-life health class. We can’t give advice but we have seen homeschoolers who are struggling find their grounding with a good CBT or DBT counselor, as well as a gentle health coach or designing a self-care program together. (You might find 7Sisters Health curriculum helpful with that.)
      Would your teen work well with a tutor? Self-paced homeschool online classes? We have found that many teens do best if they pull the academic levels and goals WAY back for a year.
      Hope these ideas give some encouragement.

      • My teen is currently working in a small group for an hour focusing on school work. The switching causes her to stab with the pencil and bang violently on the table. I think the tutor would need to be very willing to work with these episodes. Learning academically will be slow and need to be timed to when my teen is more in control. I will look at the 7Sister curriculum. Thank you for all your feedback.

  2. My son has been diagnosed with depression with psychotic features, over eats and has anxiety. His doctors are against homeschooling because of the thoughts but he desperately wants to be homeschooled. What are your thoughts about homeschooling a high school student who has the psychotic features in their diagnosis)

    • Oh Sharon,
      I know that situation is very difficult. I will add you and your son to my prayer list.
      Because I’m a counselor myself, I can’t ethically give you advice but I can give you some questions that you and your son can discuss:
      -Homeschooling is a bad idea if he is not willing to take his medications as prescribed, and do the necessary physical and cognitive care that he needs (appropriate water, healthy foods, exercise, sleep, breathing plus healthy affirmations and self-talk). These are not curative, but are so very necessary for his brain and body to be able to guide itself through the academics of homeschooling. Is he willing?
      -Is he willing to continue with his counseling and medication management? He will need that support whether or not he is homeschooling.
      -Can he follow the recommendations in the post on this page?
      -and Sharon, are you willing and able to do this?
      I have seen homeschooling high school work for teens experiencing this and I’ve seen it not work. The questions should help you clarify your decisions.

    • Good questions, Leanna. That’s what our Psychology course is all about. With a good foundation in from Psych you can add more in-depth studies to level up for a more powerful credit or to develop specific mental health interests.

  3. We homeschool, and my 13, soon to be 14 year old daughter is suffering from severe depression. Due to years of dealing with an increasing depression combined with dyscalculia, she is a couple grades below level in math, plus she adamantly refuses to write at all. We’ve tried online curriculums combined with” life activities”(baking,working with herbs) along with science kits, library programs, etc. However, as I mentioned, her depression continues to worsen. She refuses to bathe, she refuses therapy or counseling,she leaves the house ONLY when there’s absolutely no choice, and that is very reluctantly. She’s 50+pounds overweight, and would like to lose weight, but can’t change her very emotionally- driven eating habits, so her physical health is suffering as a result of that also. I’m writing because, even though we follow a very loose unschooling way of life, I feel that she doesn’t really do as much learning as she could. What do I do in a case like this?

    • Of course, we can’t give therapeutic advice here. But we can make a suggestion: Make sure you are working with your family physician. Also, sometimes moms need to be in therapy to give them a boost of support when dealing with a family member’s mental illness. (It’s one of the healthiest things I’ve seen moms do.)

  4. Hello, my 13 yo teen is withdrawn and angry acting towards me much of the time. Social media is her life. She says she hates homeschooling, and I can’t get her to talk to me about anything. I want to get her into counseling to figure out what is going on. How do I find a counselor that will support my homeschooling and help my daughter cope with whatever is causing her distress? I feel like I’m loosing my little girl.

    • Worried Mom, I’m glad you notice and care. Any good counselor does not judge about educational lifestyles anymore than they can judge other lifestyles. However, you might find who you need at American Association of Christian Counselors

      Also, you might find some extra encouragement for yourself in a wonderful little book by Dr. Ross Campbell: How to Really Love Your Teen.

      I will keep you and your daughters in my prayers.

    • If your daughter does not support homeschooling, you should talk to her about why, and try to work from there. Don’t pressure her into things she may not be comfortable with.

  5. There are some great, concrete ideas here, and as always delivered with gentle compassion. Thank you!

    We found homeschooling to be just the stress reliever we needed to cope with our son’s issues. Not a perfect or complete solution, but it gave us breathing space to pursue real healing. We stepped off the hamster wheel of trying to fit into a traditional classroom so he could use his internal resources for something beyond day to day survival.

    It also gave me opportunities to encourage him and help him understand what was going on so he could cope in healthy ways.

    There are several ideas here I never considered, and I think they would have helped even more!

    • Thanks, Lisa. I agree with you that homeschooling can give the space for more healing rather than spend all the young person’s resources on the “hamster wheel” of regular school situations.

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