Pediatric mental illness. Scary words, right? When I first heard them, they terrified me. They still do, but now for different reasons.
When I first found out my son had a mental illness, my brain scrambled from one thing to the next. I had the usual mom questions: Was it something I had done? Something I didn't do? What did this mean for his future? Did he have a future? Would he live with me forever? How can I help him? Can I "fix" it for him?
What I didn't think of was how he would take it. It never occurred to me he would be ashamed or embarrassed. I didn't think he would be afraid to tell friends and family that he had to take medicine. I didn't know he would be angry to have this label.
I didn't know about the social stigma or the fear that people have about mental illness. I didn’t realize that his diagnosis would make people afraid of him. There is nothing to be afraid of. He's a great kid; he just gets overwhelmed at times. He gets mad and doesn't always know what to do, but we are working on it.
A few months ago, we were in a social situation for a long weekend. He did well the first day. I could see he was starting to cook on the second. I told him to take breaks if he needed to. That evening, there was an unforeseen complication and it was too much for him.
He got upset in a large group of people. I got tense; I almost started to cry because I was afraid for him. But he walked away. Then I did cry. He did it, he handled it! He found his limit and separated himself from the situation. I cried with pride, with relief, with happiness.
My son has a mental illness. You don't have to be afraid of him. He shouldn't have to be afraid to tell others. Not every kid with a mental illness is going to do something terrible, but if we can't learn to be comfortable talking and hearing about it, we are never going to get anywhere as a society.
Learn more about mental and behavioral health on this website.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.