Childhood mental illness is on the rise. A 2010 study by The National Institute on Mental Health found that one in five youth are affected by at least one type of mental disorder. There is a lot of speculation about why that is. Is it the rise in technology, the decrease in time spent outdoors, reduced face to face interactions, environmental toxins, social media, sleep, or economic downturn? Or is it just that there is more awareness and therefore an increase in diagnosis?
I am not an expert in psychiatry, science, or medicine. Therefore, I am not going to attempt to tackle those questions.
What I am is a parent. A parent whose life has been deeply affected by childhood mental illness.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article entitled Admitting Your Child to a Mental Health Hospital. The words and experience resonated with other parents. Some even used the article to reach out to their circles for sometimes the first time to share with them what they had been going through.
That article was shared tens of thousands of times.
Since then, the flood of emails and private messages has been overwhelming. I’m honoured that people chose to share their personal stories and emotions with me and I carry them close to my heart. It is for those people and others like them that I am writing this follow-up article.
Some of the stories were so heavy that they were hard to carry. I had to step away from my computer for two days that first week as the weight of it became too much.
Children with anxiety so debilitating they no longer attend school, teens lost to addiction or suicide, parents signing over their rights as the only way to keep their child safe, families torn apart.
I tell you this because I need you to understand that there are so many families walking this road. Their stories are all different and yet, there are choruses that ring the same.
- They all love their children fiercely.
- They are weary.
- Worry keeps them up at night.
- They fear for how this is affecting their other children.
- They worry that they are not enough.
- Their whole family is suffering.
- They don’t know where to turn or what steps they should take to help their child. This sometimes paralyzes them.
- There are not enough supports or programs available in their area.
- Parents carry with them the additional burdens of guilt and shame as they keep the secret of what is really going on in their homes.
Can we rise up and make our voices heard? Mental illness in children is becoming an epidemic.
The demand for qualified professionals and effective treatments is rising faster than it seems the nation can keep up with it. While I can’t solve that, I know that silence is what perpetuates this.
Join me in erasing the stigma of mental illness by sharing your story.
Know that you are not alone. There are so many who are also walking this road.
Let’s talk about childhood mental illness and the effect it’s having on our society, our schools, our young people, and our homes. Just as we would share with friends and family if our child were suffering from a cold or the flu or had been diagnosed with a more serious physical disease such as asthma, we need to be sharing about how our kids are doing from a mental health perspective.
What if you didn’t have to carry this burden alone?
The magical thing about when we share our truth is that it allows others to share theirs.
Last week, when I shared about our decision to admit our daughter to a mental health treatment facility, it gave others the courage to tell their stories too. I’m not suggesting that you need to do as I did and announce it to the world. I’m not even saying that you have to announce it on Facebook.
But what if instead of being isolated and feeling like no one understands, you chose one or two trusted people to share with?
When I was debating whether or not I should write our experience, my friend said to me “Feeling alone is the cancer that fuels this. We worry about judgement, blame, and carry so much guilt. Which isolates us more. Are we perpetuating the stigma against mental health issues by being quiet about it?” So I put my thoughts to paper in the hopes that I could help others share their stories and feel less alone.
I’ll share with you the power of choosing the share your story. In my article about our daughter going to a mental health hospital, I shared this:
This kind of life can be so isolating. There are things that have happened in our home that unless you are also walking this path of mental health disease in your children would shock you. My husband and I have literally said to each other, “who could we ever tell this to?”
Last Sunday night, my husband and I sat around our friends’ kitchen table. We found the answer to the question “who could we ever tell this to?”. Because they had walked this road too. They understood. By the end of the evening, we were even laughing about the fact that none of us would ever have thought we could share our calling 9-1-1 experiences with others!
It felt so good to be around others who “get it”. To be able to be real and not worry about judgment. I want that for you too.
But for us to be able to get to that place, we first had to take a deep breath and say “my child struggles with mental health issues”.
Help me end the stigma. Not just for our kids who are suffering. But for us. I want you to be able to sit around your friend’s kitchen table and be real and raw and still know that you are loved.
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