I thought I’d revisit this blog from my May Newsletter and post for my readers… May is Mental Health Awareness Month. No doubt it’s a time to give some attention to those suffering with this horrible affliction, sometimes in silence and other times screaming out loudly. I believe we all have an opportunity to try to garner more knowledge and get a bigger grasp on mental health.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that, “one in five youth ages 13 to 18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.” Alarmingly, in the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15-24.
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, “US and international to date (June 2016) research suggests that individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are responsible for approximately 10% of all homicides in the United States. For mass killings, the percentage is approximately 33%.”
With the recent Santa Fe, Texas school shooting, during these sad and unimaginable times for families, we hear the words, “Overwhelming grief… “This horrific event.” “The killer wanted his story told…” Then, there are multitudes of analysis and debate about red flags, mental health and guns, albeit momentarily.
Yes, as is repeatedly stated in times like these, there is a necessity for a larger conversation. But who should be having that conversation? I watched a talk show where someone commented that there should be extreme punishment for these kids. This person stated that these kids who commit mass murders come from bad families and that the death penalty should be automatically assigned to them. The person stated that ought to be law.
I thought of my son who suffers from mental illness.. whose anguish is real and debilitating. His fear of crowds so enormous that going into the lunch line at school was simply unbearable so he opted not to each lunch for months. His misery and distress, overwhelming. His feelings of rejection due to being abandoned… His opinion of himself; self esteem, so low… his view of the world so wretched and dark, that he is absolutely convinced death is his best and only option. The way his brain receives and processes some information is different from the rest of us… He only knows and believes what he perceives. Yet in a more rational and lucid moment, I see the shame in his eyes when he realizes how his actions are perceived by others and how outside “the norm” he sometimes operate.
All along the way getting support for my son, I would hear individuals with good intentions rationalizing what he does. One of the most common statement is “lots of kids/teenagers do that,” when addressing a singular issue. What I know with absolute certainty is that we all view mental health illnesses through our unique lenses.
A challenge in having that larger conversation is helping society see the birds eye view exclusive to us, as parents or caregivers. The question is how can we go about adding our exclusive point of view to those who research; make medical and legal policies? Having our point of view inclusive in these conversations is vital, I believe.
Oftentimes the diagnosis our children carry is not singular. There sometimes are co-occurring illnesses such examples as autism with ADHD, depression, bi-polar disorder, social anxiety, schizophrenia… just to name a few. In some instances there can be one co-occurring condition with a diagnosis and other times a few. With all this conflicting activities taking place in the brain of our loved ones afflicted with several mental health disorders, there can be tremendous “cross-messaging.” The messages the brain send to those afflicted is so compelling, they simply override any form of logic. However, to these individuals suffering with mental health illnesses, what they are hearing in their head and feel compelled to do in the moment, makes perfect sense. Sometimes it is a relief…
Next, is the stigma… With my son, I see how very hard he works to show the rest of the world that he is “A-OK!” He is as normal as the next kid and there absolutely nothing “wrong” with him. It almost appears that the stigma is a built-in part of mental illness for the patients. A theory I have is that individuals with mental illness are more perceptive or “tuned in” to others and feel the shun, the surprise, the dismissal or rejection, subtle as it may be, that is projected on to them very early in life. They work at finding ways to combat the feelings of judgement, rejection and ridicule they feel from others and the overwhelming shame they feel inside.
Additionally the fact that behavior is not an exact science, it takes years, sometimes a lifetime for individuals with mental health illness to be properly diagnosed and treated. When kids/teens are developing it is almost impossible for them to articulate their feelings and what is going on inside their brain. A lot to consider for this national conversation, which is an imperative.
There is absolutely no justification for committing murder. None. And yes, the time has come for that larger conversation. My call to action to you, natural parents, foster-adopt parents and caregivers is to please make yourselves included in this conversation! The discourse is vital and ALL parents of children with mental health disorders must invite themselves to take a seat at the table. Our insight will prove invaluable. We have children who are vulnerable… teethering… can be susceptible… who may need more support than we can sometimes provide.
Let’s start speaking up!