I can still clearly remember the day that I met him. He was playing in the pretend kitchen with his mother. Children swirled around him laughing, but he did not look up. Something in the way that his mother gently knelt by him telegraphed her protective instincts. I recognized him right away. He was one of “my kids”.
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“My kids” have a variety of different special needs
“My kids” are amazing. “My kids” are brilliant, creative and talented. “My kids” have special needs and I saw all of those qualities in the three-year-old boy playing in the kitchen with his mother. I was so drawn to this child that I did something that I had never done before. I asked the preschool teacher to refer me to his mother so that I could work with him.
I had to make a deal with the teacher in order to be introduced. She asked me to take on a job for her that I did not want to do and in return, she would strongly suggest that his mother would hire me. The deal was worth it. I started working with the boy the next fall.
A glimpse into the life of someone who has anxiety and depression.
That was 14 years ago. The boy is grown now, a high school senior who towers over me. The gift that I received from working with him was a glimpse into the life of someone who has anxiety and depression. Someone who is prone to depression. Someone who needs to be constantly vigilant or when he slips into his sadness he may not be able to crawl back out. The gift of hope, perseverance, and strength in the face of adversity.
The rise of anxiety and depression in children.
Since the day that I met that boy, I have met so many more children who struggle with mental illness. More and more of my clients show aspects of anxiety and depression. More and more of our community is also showing signs of stress, battles with depression and anxiety. Our local high school has had at least 12 students commit suicide over the past decade. People have many theories about why there seems to be a rise in depression and anxiety in children and teens. One theory is that The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders are related. Whatever the reason, we are experiencing an increase in mental illness affecting our youth.
Mental Health services are in short supply.
We live a community rich with resources and yet we do not have enough mental health services to serve our youth. Our local children’s hospital is world-renowned and yet they farm out teens who need hospitalization for psychiatric treatment to hospitals in another county. Free and anonymous services for children and adolescents are hard to find. My young friend drives an hour to go to an adolescent bipolar support group.
We need to lift the stigma of mental illness so that we can focus on mental health.
The lack of resources for adolescent mental health in a region that is home to some of the best research and medical services baffles me. I wonder if this lack of services is directly related to the stigma that still hangs over people with mental disorders. At one school meeting about the last student who had taken their life, the word suicide was never mentioned. It was referred to as “the recent event”. At that meeting, my young friend met a woman who was worried about her daughter. Her daughter had not left her room for a month. The mother was embarrassed and reluctant to tell her doctor about her daughter; perhaps it would affect how people looked at her daughter, her family.
As long as a stigma is perceived people will suffer in the shadows. As long as there is a stigma people will be silent about mental health. Do we need to wait until every family knows someone affected by mental illness before we take action? Do we need to wait until we lose more of our brilliant young people?
Reach out for help and support!
If you, or someone you know, struggles with mental health, get help, offer help, talk about the challenge out loud. We need to recognize mental health as just that: another area of our health. We should treat mental illness with the same compassion and care that we treat any other chronic condition. There is no stigma in being ill.
With the proper support, there is plenty of hope for a rich, fulfilling life.
Not only should there be no stigma, there is plenty of hope for our youth. There is so much that can be done to help. My young friend still has his struggles, but his daily life is rich. I started him on a mental health maintenance schedule. It includes things like taking medication on time, the same time every day, getting the proper exercise, going to support groups and more. With the proper support and care, he can manage his mental health, much the same way as anyone with a chronic illness. There is hope as long as we don’t hide.
Resources and Information on Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health:
- Free printable Mental Health Checklist
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Family Resources: Join their online community and get the latest information and resources aimed at helping families find the information they need. Our nation’s children can’t wait for care.
- Anxiety in Children: Information and resources for parents and caregivers who have concerns regarding their child’s level of anxiety.
- Effective Child Therapy: Evidence based mental health treatment for children and adolescents.
- Iris the Dragon Helps Kids Cope with Mental Illness: Children’s Mental Health Storybooks for the Classroom
- Mandown: a moving short film about helping a friend with depression
- Nation Institute of Mental Health: Transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses.
- Parenting Strategies: Preventing Depression and Anxiety: Provides general guidelines on how parents can do this—one for primary-school aged children and one for teenagers. The suggested strategies may also be useful for parents whose child is already experiencing some problems with depression or anxiety.
- Simple Ways to Reduce the Mental Illness Stigma: Simple Ways to Reduce the Mental Illness Stigma
- Soothing the Anxious Child: Tools and Strategies to Help Children Take Control of Their Anxiety
- Teen Mental Health: A ToolBox is full of resources that can help.
- Worry Wise Kids: Parenting Tips for Anxious Kids
- ZeroSuicide Tool Kit: Zero Suicide is a commitment to suicide prevention in health and behavioral health care systems, and also a specific set of tools and strategies.
- HelpGuide.org: Offers good explanations of mental health conditions and links to resources.
- Crisis Text Line: In the United States you can text anything to 741741 to start a conversation with a trained counselor.
- 7 Cups: Want to talk to someone now? Connect with a (caring and compassionate) trained active listener in a safe space. You can also choose a therapist for online therapy.