How We Change the World for Our Children with Mental Illness
A lot of energy goes into changing the world for our children, and that's before childhood mental illness joins our parenting struggles. If it's been a rough day for my son, in terms of his disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) especially, I have barely enough energy to make dinner, let alone "change the world." Making change for our children is important to me, though. After dealing with childhood mental illness the last few years, I've realized that, sometimes, the world around my son needs more of a "cure" than he does.
Making a Change in the World for Our Children Is Easier Than it Sounds
Advocate for Your Child
When it comes to changing the world, your first thought may be politics or protests. Those are definitely options, but it doesn't have to be that intensive. It can be as informal as sharing your experience with other parents or pushing harder for what your child needs in that individualized education plan (IEP) meeting.
When you tell your story, you chip away at the stigma of mental illness. Breaking that stigma in your own social circles starts a chain reaction. The same goes for when you advocate for your child's needs with that one social worker or teacher. Other children like yours benefit from what those providers learn from you. If you're not the type to make a fuss face-to-face, then all it takes is filling out those feedback forms we all usually throw away. Letters, emails, and after-hour voicemails work well, too.
Volunteer Somewhere--You Will Make a Difference
If anything, volunteer. When teachers at school see you in the halls or encounter you at events, they get to know you and your child better. I'm pretty sure my son's former principal was terrified every time she saw me at a meeting. You know what, though, if fearing I'd have something to say to her at the next school activity inspired change in my son's classroom, that worked for me.
Disability-specific organizations have volunteer opportunities, too. County and state boards/councils often require a parent or "consumer" representative, if you're interested in joining at that level. In my state, we have school district, special education, advisory councils (SEAC), and there's always the school board. Contact your school district or special education department and ask how parents can get involved. Their websites usually have that information, too.
Side note: if you join any state or city boards, your personal information may be made public since you are in a public seat.
Prepare to Tell Your Story to Change the World for Our Children
Regardless of how you decide to make a change, be prepared to tell your story. I've been chattering about this for a year and a half since my son's hospitalization. It's become easier, and stigma doesn't exist in my head anymore. I realize it's present in the world around me, but talking about mental illness is as natural to me as talking about what I ate for dinner last night.
Maybe you're not there yet. You may have family, cultural, or professional restraints on what you can share. You may have only just started your mental health journey with your child. Regardless, I encourage you to record your thoughts. One day, you may want or need to talk. One day, you may be sharing your story at your state capitol to influence special educational initiatives or mental health insurance coverage. Maybe you'll write a blog, and you'll have to summarize complex parts of your life in 600 words or less.
Whatever the case, know that your story can change people. You're not alone, and sometimes, the best thing you can do to change the world for our children is let others know they're not alone, either.
David, M. (2017, September 11). How We Change the World for Our Children with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2017/09/changing-the-world-for-your-child-with-mental-illness
Author: Melissa David
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I do not personally have a child with a mental illness, however I am perusing a career in mental health services. By simply sharing your story you start a chain reaction of parents and family members who are ready to share their experiences with a child with a mental illness and we can all start talking about it. By speaking on mental illnesses, especially in children, we can start to fight the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds mental health as a whole. My brother has ADHD and has struggled much of his life with it, but through medication and understanding he is succeeding and is set to graduate high school next year. Your words can produce actions and help ripple through society in making this work a better place for our children with mental illnesses. We alone have the power to change things and it is a change that needs to happen. Thank you so much again for sharing, I love reading your blogs!
First of all, I really want to appreciate you for this blog. This is really a great thought, how we can change the world for the children suffering from mental illness. A single thought is enough for a bigger change. Thanks for sharing the blog.
I think this is a wonderful read. When discussing things like creating major change around stigma it can be easy to brush off because it just feels too huge. "It can be as informal as sharing your experience with other parents or pushing harder for what your child needs in that individualized education plan (IEP) meeting." -- even the biggest journeys start with a single step, this couldn't be more true here. Every instance where you share your story, your child's story you are opening up the field for honest, meaningful conversation and its these conversations that act like stepping stones to pave the way for great change.
Thanks, Liz! And thanks for being a regular reader. :)