RBC | Although statistics vary, the American Psychological Association approximates one out of every five children in America has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Mental health problems in young people are associated with outcomes such as suicide, substance use, inability to live independently, justice involvement, school dropout, economic hardship, and physical health problems.
A perfect storm of grief, trauma, and an undiagnosed mental illness brought about our 8-year-old child’s first suicide attempt. Yes, you read that correctly, an 8-year-old! Imagine hearing your young child cry out “just let me die” as they try to take their own life. Unfortunately, that heartbreaking scenario became our reality and the three-year battle that ensued to secure appropriate pediatric mental and behavioral health care for our son was an eye-opener to the importance of learning to advocate for your child’s mental health care.
I am not a mental health care professional or a pediatrician; I am a mom, like most, who would do anything to meet the needs of her child. In the beginning we had felt something was wrong but excused the sudden behavioral changes as our child’s way of grieving the sudden loss of his grandfather. My husband and I were raised “old school” and although we appreciate many aspects of our traditional upbringing, talking about feelings, emotions, and similar uncomfortable topics was taboo. Looking back, we should have spoken up sooner for our child. We have learned from our experience that mental health is just as important as physical health and that one can affect the other.
This past Saturday was World Mental Health Day. The day gave way to a celebration of sorts for our family. This month marks the one-year anniversary! One year free from self-harm, suicidality, and inter-state pediatric psychiatric hospital stays. Our child has come such a long way, we finally have a diagnosis and a treatment plan. He is looking forward to his future for the first time since 2016. It has been exhausting, and is still a work in progress. There are no quick fixes when you are referring to a person’s mental health.
Perhaps this glimpse into our journey will help give another parent or guardian the strength and courage to speak up for their child’s mental health care needs. For the sake of our children we must dissolve fears and break stigmas.
So, what does it mean to be an advocate? An advocate gives support. This means helping others to be heard, defending their rights, and considering their views and wishes when decisions are being made. It can also mean working with schools, doctors, and others to make sure mental health needs are met. The bottom line is, having your child’s back is going to make them feel really good. An advocate stays educated. Staying in the loop by learning about and understanding new developments and knowing their pros and cons is important when supporting others and can also help empower them. Being armed with information can help conquer fears. An advocate stands up for what they believe in. Putting your beliefs into action by using your voice to advocate for others is a powerful thing and can also inspire others to do the same, creating a movement. Don’t wait until it’s too late! Speaking up for others who, for whatever reason, cannot speak up themselves is something we can do at many different levels. Championing a cause can give those affected by it inspiration and a reason to keep fighting.
Where do you start? If your child is not in crisis, speaking to your child’s pediatrician can get the ball rolling. They can refer you to the nearest mental health care provider for further assessment. Don’t withhold information, when your gut tells you something is wrong speak up! Address concerns as soon as possible. If you or your child need immediate help and/or are having suicidal thoughts, go to your local emergency room or call 911. You can also find confidential and immediate support from trained professionals at Colorado Crisis Services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 844-493-TALK (8255), Text TALK to 38255 or visit ColoradoCrisisServices.org to chat or call the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
By ROXIE FROMANG | Special to the Herald Times