Stigma and Children’s Mental Health Treatment

Stigma and Children's Mental Health Treatment

As a mother of three, I spend a lot of time paying attention to what is going on in my children’s lives.

I monitor their grades, assess if they are struggling in classes, stay involved in their relationships with their friends. I try to be that person my kids can talk to about their issues. But even with all that, I could not be prepared for how my world would be turned upside down.

Last spring, my eldest daughter who was almost 13 had been rebelling. Mostly in the way of not doing what was asked of her, but I was oblivious to what was going on deep within the recesses of her mind. It was information that no matter how hard I pried, she kept to herself. It wasn’t until her friend, caught by her father for skipping school, ratted out that my daughter had been with her. And as if that wasn’t enough for me to hear, the father told me my child was cutting herself. These are words no parent wants to hear.

How do you address this issue with your child?

I think no parent starts off prepared to face such a reality. My mind went wild, what else was she doing to herself? Why was she doing this? A tornado of questions circulated through my mind while my emotions caused a trigger in me. Reminding me of my own childhood and the times I would inflict pain on myself because I was hurting emotionally. I didn’t have a safe space to share. And so, I went undiagnosed with depression all the way to adulthood. I thought you were supposed to just deal with things. Be tough, be strong, wasn’t that what we were taught? Was my daughter just like me? She had never shown signs that she had anxiety or that she was suffering as I had.

When the cloud of pain cleared, I leaped to action. I asked to see her arms, asked for whatever tool she used to cut herself, I bombarded her with many questions, before reaching out to the school guidance counselor for help. I knew this was a hard subject but too many people feel ashamed and ignore situations like this, writing them off as a fad. But mental health is something I understand and is overlooked and regarded as non-existent, to our own detriment.

I fought through those myths and stigmas to make sure my child got the help she needed.

She met with social workers and had psychiatric appointments. I did everything I could to help her. But I was met with people in the mental health field telling me that she was fine, “normal,” that she didn’t need medication, and there was no need for a diagnosis. So relieved, we moved forward, until I continued watching my child’s grades fail, her interest in school becoming non-existent.

It wasn’t until I found her cutting herself again that I found a therapist. Even then, the therapist blamed her moodiness on her lack of a good sleep schedule. I took her for another opinion to a different psychiatrist, who again, said there was nothing wrong with her. A whole year passed since she had been cutting herself before finding another psychiatrist to see her. It was then, that we finally got answers. My daughter was diagnosed with moderate depression and Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. She has been on medication. I now see the little girl that I knew was inside of her, happy, talkative, engaged, involved.

In this country, even the doctors are dismissive and act as if children’s mental health is non-existent.

If I hadn’t been persistent my child would still be suffering, and the worst part is I don’t know what else she may have done to harm herself. During this time, I got my son diagnosed as well and it turned out he had the same mood disorder and had been walking around living his life angry and no one knew. As a parent, learning of my child’s suffering only made me see just how important it is that we look for signs beyond what our children are saying. How important it is that we keep pushing these doctors to take our concerns seriously.

We cannot let the stigma keep us from getting the help we, our children, or our families need.

– Nadia



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