A Parent's Perspective on Mental Health and the Challenges Our Children Face


I've always found writing a therapeutic venture. It allows us to strip away our feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and imagined reactions and take a good look at the items at hand. There is something about seeing your thoughts crystallized in writing that frees us. That allows us to share and reflect in an objective fashion and certainly challenge ourselves to see through to a reality that is both part of our life and yet easier to deal with as it is expressed in writing — once removed as it were.

Take this article for instance. For many many years the subject of mental health has not been discussed openly in families, schools, or work. Yet if someone were to break a leg, get in a car accident, or suffer a fall down a set of stairs people can see the injury. They can imagine what it would be like to see another car come crashing into their hearts or to feel a tumble down the stairs. However it is very difficult for someone to understand the level of anxiety that keeps a young child indoors or the constant gnawing pain that can only be removed by taking a sharp object and constantly cutting parts of her body and then in a wave of guilt, hide these from those who love her. We need to break the silence and spend time engaging our children.

There is an attitude in some circles that if we do not acknowledge a problem and cater to it it will go away (the ostrich) or that it is a phase that our children will grow out of (the idealist), yet today more and more children are dealing with mental health. Some of these do not survive this fight. Society has not coped well with this particular epidemic. Parents are not taught the warning signs and children are not taught that it is OK to be open about mental health. Children withdrawal into their technology — learning to communicate and interact with the world from behind the screen of a phone. Parents give their children their space thinking that this is just a phase of growing up. In reality it is often a call for help. This call for help is cast out into the Internet and if the child is lucky enough they find virtual support. If they are not lucky, their sense of being alone, abandoned and of little worth grows. It is time to put down (or at least reduce) our technology and talk to our children. We need to hug them and accept them for who they are. Every child has value and needs to understand that we value them, love them, and want them in our life.

As a parent when our children grow older we try to remember the way they once were. We try to recapture that moment of joy when they said "Dad" the first time. Or when they took their first steps. Or when it was OK to walk through a mall holding hands with your little girl without getting weird sidelong glances.

But things change and the passage of time causes our children to take their own paths. Paths that can be terrifying for them and for us. We lose the ability to just hold hands and be together. Now it is rush from here to there, take them to friend's homes or even — tragically so — sit on the sidelines feeling helpless as they struggle with mental health issues, depression and suicidal tendencies.

Time passes and you watch the system that is supposed to be helping your child fails time and again. Finally in a desperate cry for help — or with an impulsive decision to end the pain, she attempts suicide. It is one week before her 19th Birthday.

After she ingests numerous pills (her prescribed "method" of suicide) she has the presence of mind before she passes out to call you. You manage to keep her on the phone while you drive erratically to her mother's house. Police and EMS have been dispatched.

At the hospital you wait overnight while toxicology reports come in and nurses continuously check upon the little girl that you could once hold in a single hand. No longer, she is now a full grown adult near the cusp of her next birthday.

Suddenly in the mid of this you start hyperventilating. It only takes a moment for this to happen, yet you feel as if your heart heart has been ripped from your chest and raised high on a sacred altar. Panic ensues, tearfulness begins, the spiral continues as you frantically try to grip the edges and lever yourself back into a position if strength. Back into a position where you can rationally deal with the facts and the reality of your situation.

You have just had a panic attack. A small vision of what your child faces on a daily basis.

Reflecting on this you realize just how strong your daughter is. She deals with this feeling, the foolishness and guilt and pain daily. Now you understand a little bit and can begin the journey to help your child.

Fast forward and your daughter, now approaching twenty, is out of hospital. She still goes back every weekday for a half day program. She is recovering and has good days and bad days. She fights everyday to remind herself of how much she is loved, needed and valued. You also remember her of this every chance you get.

Occasionally you hear people talking about mental health and how someone is 'better' or 'cured' and you feel a bit of anger. The reality is that mental illness takes time to heal. It could take years before someone is fully comfortable and able to manage the stresses of life or the anxiety causing moments.

Your job, as a parent, is to stand strong and support your child. Be available and be understanding. You do have the ability to help your child just be consistent with your support and avoid placing guilt.

Todd R Ramsey