We already know that mental illness deserves the same attention and treatment as a physical ailment, but what isn’t discussed as much is the mental health of our children. Approximately 1 in 5 children will be diagnosed with a mental illness, but less than 10% actually receive treatment. The statistics are discouraging considering the increasing awareness and stigma reduction being made. Children that grow up with a mental illness left untreated are more likely to exhibit disruptive behavior in school and or home. Perhaps the opposite occurs and they become reserved and less active. Regardless, there are signs to look for and its best to know when to seek help.
School performance is normally the most affected part of a child’s life. They may seem withdrawn or more hyper. They tend to show more defiance than usual and can be more sensitive emotionally. Fortunately schools are staffed with guidance counselors allowing children to express themselves in groups and individually. However, sometimes further intervention is necessary and your child may be best under the care of an adolescent psychologist and or psychiatrist, if medication is recommended.
I didn’t receive any diagnosis as a child nor was there really any reason for my parents to believe I was struggling at all. It began in the second grade. I don’t know why to this day, but I was having frequent stomach aches and crying in class. I remember one incident in particular where I was seated by the sink and bawling because I felt like I needed to vomit. The chaos of the class continued on. I remember my parents even coming in for a meeting with Mrs. Cotter. Remember those color cards that teachers used to associate with how our behavior or participation was in class that day or week? Well I recall the discussion of me getting a yellow card or something of the type, I know I couldn’t have been red card worthy. My teacher speculated that perhaps recieving that card made me feel insecure or in trouble which wasn’t always the case. I have no recollection of what the end result was but I remember taking chalky medicine to sooth my stomach when needed. Looking back, I know that I was definitely experiencing anxiety. I didn’t know what was making me feel this way so I would make up stories to the counselor that I was upset because I saw a dead dog in the street. I did actually see the dead dog and I don’t remember actually being shaken by it, just trying to understand why I was feeling how I was. My parents were not cruel. Maybe my dad’s method of discipline wasn’t ideal, but I had a great childhood. I don’t know why or how I got the idea that I could hang myself from my bunkbed using the short tie from my robe. That didn’t work to say the least. When I got to middle school it only became worse. Sixth grade was easy breezy and then my family’s world was shook when my dad had a stroke and we were evicted from our home due to new management. Moving to a different part of town, meant new schools. Seventh grade was absolutely horrible. I began to get bullied and the harassment occured everyday in tech class by one kid in particular who enjoyed making fun of me and my caterpillar eyebrows. The torment caused me to miss a lot of school because I often faked sick. I would be sent home by the nurse on a weekly basis. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to my guidance counselor and reported the harassment. The very next day I did not go to school but when I returned the day after, I was called in by the counselor who informed me that she had spoken to my fellow classmate and that was all it took. I never had another issue with that young man, even as we grew into high school.
When my sister was in elementary school, she was diagnosed with ADHD. Different medications were tried without much success. I can’t speak for my sister but reflecting back on that and in comparison with her illness today, she was most likely misdiagnosed and treated. With a current diagnosis of bipolar ii disorder, she is receiving the care and treatment she has always deserved.
The bottom line is that we need to look out for our children. If your child suddenly refuses to attend school, there is your first indication that something is not okay. Some children may actuallly just be going through a phase and the behavior could disappear. When it doesn’t or gets worse, that’s when intervention is needed.
The following are comments from Standing Strong followers and others on how their mental illness affected them as an adolescent.
“It was mostly just confusing because at a young age all I knew was I didn’t fit in. The reasons I was given by my peers didn’t include mental illness. I just assumed I wasn’t “cool” didn’t have a clue how to be. Now I cherish everything legitimately unique. In myself and in others.”
“It was torture! I grew up in an old school household. I never cried in front of anyone because I would have been told to suck it up. I always hid my depression by being funny or wacky. I always used to mimic people like Jim Carrey and or Adam Sandler. I still don’t like to cry in front of anyone! I felt alone and never felt good enough. My parents were great but they just didn’t understand because of how they were brought up. It was tough. They made me tough but it was really hard when I was depressed. I just wanted to be alone in those dark times.”
” I was a always an over thinker, a bit somber, and shy around people I didn’t know (I used to whisper things I wanted to say to mother and she would talk for me)
As a teen I was bullied in school, ran away from home twice, became reckless and promiscuous, and experimented with drugs. I began drinking WAY too young because it helped me socialize…
The list goes on…”
“Escaping to fantasy worlds…. would dream endlessly about running away whether it was to Europe or the bush … I even had planned out how I was going to rob a milk bar so that I could get enough money to buy a plane ticket… (I was probably around 12 at the time) I would make up fake friends with personalities and stories (even tho I had real friends) lied to almost everyone I knew and had a ‘fake life’ that was exciting… then had a breakdown where my parents thought I was possessed and got sent to boarding school in another country.”
“I had my own best friend and lots of games – but then got annoyed people didn’t see or hear them properly and didn’t play the games right
so I just stopped speaking to other people and went quiet.”