Myths about parenting a child with mental illness are harmful, so let's straighten some of them out. If your child struggles with mental illness, you've faced judgment and unsolicited advice from almost everybody. None of it compares to the judgment and fear we heap on ourselves. It's easy to get dragged down by ignorance and stigma. Debunking common myths, then, may make the journey through parenting a child with mental illness a little easier.
Stigma Mental Illness
The definition of the least restrictive environment is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It mandates that children with disabilities should learn alongside their regular education peers as much as is safe and possible. Why is it so important that our children with mental illnesses be included in the least restricted environment?
Several weeks ago, another blogger triggered a heated discussion on a minor’s rights to mental health privacy when they suffer from mental illness. Readers chastised the author for disclosing too much information about her child. And that made me ask: where is the line when it comes to minor's mental health privacy.
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.
For two years I refused to even consider electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for my severely depressed daughter. After all, I saw those 1950s movies—I saw those patients emerge zombie-like with no memory. But then my daughter’s life became so bleak we had no choice but to try electroconvulsive therapy, and I’ve kicked myself for letting her suffer so long.
My children start school this week, so I'm back to worrying about both sides of bullying. As a parent of a child with mental illness, who is not going to be mainstreamed this year, the fear is real. Will he be bullied for being "special ed", or will his behaviors make him the bully? I tell myself that, if I can just get him through adolescence, he'll be okay. In the meantime, though, how do I manage when I understand that both sides of bullying could affect my child's school year?
Well-intentioned people often suggest that my child with mental illness isn’t actually mentally ill. They insist he has an underlying medical condition. Lately, it's pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS). To those who interject these suggestions without invitation into a conversation about mental illness, know it can be more harmful than you think. Note: I am not an "expert", nor am I writing this in a professional capacity. I am a parent on my own journey, which is where this blog comes from.
Controversy surrounds a parent's decision to give psychiatric medication to their child with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD)--or any other mental illness. Few question parents who medicate children with diabetes or other potentially life-threatening conditions. Yet they will absolutely question those of us whose children have potentially life-threatening mental illnesses. Parents don't take this decision lightly, though, and we know psychiatric medication for a child is not an easy fix.
There is a stigma against parents who raise a child with mental illness. I felt this stigma against parents myself as I sat in my first National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) meeting, horror slowly crept up my body like a spider crawling across my skin. The organization provides education and support for both people suffering from mental illness and their families. I was attending a meeting for families but as I listened to one story after another, I was sure I didn't belong (Stigma of Being Branded Bad Parents). But this was the stigma against parents who raise a child with mental illness rearing its ugly head.
While mental health screenings in school may take place, they need to be more inclusive. Although autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and childhood mental illnesses like attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can look similar on the outside, the way they're treated in schools looks different. From the perspective of a parent of a child with mental illness, they seem like unfairly disparate worlds. It makes me think of the need for inclusivity in school mental health screenings.