In his blog, “Mental Health: Break the Silence – Break the Stigma”, Scott S. Garbini M.Ed shatters the myths and fallacies of mental health. Follow his newest series and discover the truths about mental illness; the signs, symptoms, and solutions.
The fallacies we have about mental illness are staggering; it’s contagious, it means someone is violent, it was brought on by the person them self, it can be stopped at any time if only the person chose to do so…………..…NO. Until we start seeing mental illnesses and conditions for what they are – treatable conditions no different from high blood pressure or diabetes, people who need help will be more reluctant to get it.
While we have a better grasp of what to do once diagnosed, often getting someone to seek help in the first place is the bigger challenge. What are the best ways for you to talk to your child to find out if they upset because they are just having a bad week, or if this is a feeling they just can’t shake? What if they are suddenly acting differently? What if their responses or reactions are more intense than usual? What should you do – or not do?
Let me share a poignant commercial I saw the other night… (I will ask forgiveness for paraphrasing)
Mom: What’s wrong?
Child: I don’t feel well.
Mom: Please! Stop with the pity party!
Child: It’s not my fault, the chemo is completely draining.
Friend: You’re such a downer!!!
Child: But, all of my hair has fallen out!
Grandmother: Come on, there are children in Africa who wish they had hair! Get over it!
Could you ever, in your wildest imagination, picture yourself saying that to someone suffering from cancer – let alone your child? Of course not.
Then why would you say it to someone suffering with mental illness?
Someone who is dealing with a mental illness or condition needs the same compassion and understanding as someone with a physical disease. And, it’s time to start saying that out loud.
Major credit must be given to the Hope for Depression Foundation who were creative enough to make a commercial to address this.
As each child is different, so will be their maturity levels and reactions to major changes in their life. Up until this point, their lives were fairly predictable – get up, go to class, perhaps an after school activity or work, come home, do homework, dinner, bed… Their lives are different now, and they are learning to adapt. While some of these transitions will be smooth, others may not. But which are tiny hiccups in their lives, and which ones send up red flags?
The time to be concerned is when you see a dramatic change in their actions, communication, appearance, or reactions; this change is lingering for more than a few days, and/or interfering with their normal activities.
The Mayo Clinic has a helpful list of signs and symptoms that a student might be experiencing depression, but these characteristics may also be signs of other conditions, and can be cause for concern.
- feelings of sadness or unhappiness
- oversensitivity, irritability, or frustration over minor issues
- loss of interest in normal activities
- inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
- changes in appetite or weight
- agitation and angry outbursts
- slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
- inability to make decisions, distractibility, and/or decreased concentration
- fatigue and/or loss of energy
- expressing feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- fixation on past failures or self-blame
- difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and/or remembering things
- frequent thoughts of death or dying
- unexplained crying spells
- unexplained physical problems (i.e. – headaches or stomachaches)
In looking at this list, you may be thinking, “I felt three of these things last week!” You may have, but you are over it. The time for concern is if these changes in behavior or thinking are lasting for an unusually long period of time and/or are impacting your child’s life.
One hallmark to look for is responses that you can see are out of character for your child. For example, when you have asked about their day in the past, they’ve usually shared details and little anecdotes. Now, suddenly, they are closed off or giving one word answers. When you probe a little to find out more, they over react and become defensive. While we all know this happens every once in a while as part of the normal life of a teen, if it now happens repeatedly, or with more intensity, it’s time to take a closer look at things.
But what if you don’t have such good communication with your child? Well, if you don’t, start building it now. Then, if you happen to see some behaviors or responses that are out of the ordinary in the future, you’ll have an easier time discussing things with your child.
If you sense an issue, sitting down with your child and asking a direct question, “You seem to be a little more sensitive than you normally are – is there anything I can do to help?” is a good way to start. Be honest with them and let them know that you are concerned as there is a change in their reactions and/or interactions. Ask them – Is there a problem with a class? Are you worried about upcoming exams? Do you feel in over your head? These are all good conversation starters. Do not be critical or blaming, or communication could stop entirely.
If they are able to open up, even a little, be sure to be supportive and reassuring. Let them know that you are there to support them and help in a way with which they will be most comfortable. Often times, they may be sensing a loss of control, so if you come in like gangbusters, they may retreat and less reluctant to share more information. You do not want them to spiral downward.
Stigma can act a barrier to treatment. We need to break the stigma, in order that people see having a mental health disorder is treatable. Having a mental health disorder is something people live with and have happy and productive lives. One does not cancel out the other. Like any other health issue, how the disorder is managed and treated is the key to making someone successful.
Be calmly persistent. Come from a positive perspective. They need to know that you are there to help and there is a solution to be found – and you will find it together.
This series will focus on the truths about mental illness as it affects those in high school and/or college. What are the signs, symptoms, and solutions? How do you discuss mental illness with your child? How do you know if you should be concerned about your child’s mental health? What should you do if you are concerned? What options are available to help them both on and off campus? The more open parents are about discussing mental health, the easier it will be if a situation arises in which your child wants to bring something to your attention, or vice versa. Here you can find helpful, factual information and start to have that discussion. Next month we will be discussing some examples of available resources and programs that can help.
Scott S. Garbini, M. Ed is the owner of Garbini Education and Career Consulting, LLC. providing college admission counseling, transition planning and post graduate options, as well as college to career and/or life transitioning and coaching. Mr. Garbini has over 15 years experience in higher education, spoken at multiple schools, seminars, and educational conferences around the country, and currently serves on the New London Public Schools Policy Committee, The ISAAC School Governance Committee and the Higher Education Consultants Association Government Relations Committee. He is also the former elected President of the New London Public Schools Board of Education having served two terms.
Visit www.garbinied.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to schedule a consultation. You can also visit Garbini Education and Career Consulting LLC. on Facebook and Instagram at garbinieducation
Edited by Deborah Furgueson, M.A., NBCT