As Mental Health Month retires for another year, I’d like to reflect on a few sobering statistics about youth mental illness and why early intervention is so critical:
- Of high school students who suffer from mental illness, half will drop out of school
- 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system have mental illness
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people between 10-24 years of age
- Almost all juveniles who died by suicide had an underlying mental illness
In light of these staggering statistics, why, as a society, are we so apprehensive to give mental health the attention it deserves and accept it for what it is – a serious brain disease? Why can’t we just talk openly about mental illness?
When I first started my blog, Bipolar Lemonade, I did it as a way to emote and heal after we sent Chloe to residential treatment for the first time in 2014. Also, I wanted to share our story to educate others and let those struggling with the same issues know that they’re not alone and I get it. From the first day I posted on my blog through today, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support and compassion people express. Additionally, I’ve been so thankful that so many other parents and families have come forward and shared their stories of struggles.
In the beginning, my posts didn’t disclose much about my own mental illness and just focused on Chloe. It was easier for me to talk about my daughter’s deficits than to show vulnerability and address my own. I didn’t want to be judged. Slowly, I started sharing more information about my own challenges with mental illness. It has been so freeing and has allowed so many other people to open up to me about their own struggles.
Shame and stigma keep people quiet about mental illness. This has led to broken systems in our schools, health care supports and justice systems that grapple with how to handle mental health-related crises. There is still so much unknown about brain disorders. Research, medicines and treatment methodologies have been slow to come, which only compounds the issues.
At Bipolar Lemonade, we feel it’s so critical to continue to express our stories and other family stories of youth mental illness to help educate others, minimize shame and stigma, as well as provide a safe place where people can learn, get resources and feel connected to a community that understands their circumstances.
No matter what the youth’s diagnosis, the main messages I repeatedly hear from families are: “I feel so alone. No one understands what our family is going through.” “I feel like I’m ruining my child’s life and that I’m a bad parent because I can’t find help or get support for my child.” “What do I do about x, y, z?” “I’m just worn down and exhausted.”
My resounding response is we all are doing the best we can with what we have! But there is no easy, pat solution…there aren’t a lot of professionals that understand mental illness and how to work with your youth. As caregivers and parents, it’s our responsibility to relentlessly advocate for our child with the schools, health care providers, insurance carriers and justice system.
Know that YOU are an AWESOME caregiver and parent for taking steps to learn more about your child’s mental illness and seeking tips and resources to help. Finally, you’re not alone. Bipolar Lemonade always welcomes story submissions to our blog, Facebook comments and participation in one-on-one coaching with Andrea, as well as our monthly support group for locals in Jackson County, Oregon.
For specific topics that might be helpful, check out some other Bipolar Lemonade blogs, as well as our partners’:
- What your difficult kid wants you to know
- Tips that work for parenting difficult kids
- HALT – A tried and true method for managing emotions
- She looks so normal – Aspergers in girls
- When to seek help for eating disorders
Another trusted website with a wealth of information is www.NAMI.org.