Nearly 5 million children in the U.S. have some type of serious mental illness that significantly interferes with daily life.
Diagnosing mental illness in children can be especially difficult. Many behaviors that are seen as symptoms of mental disorders, such as shyness, anxiety (nervousness), strange eating habits and outbursts of temper, can occur as a normal part of a child's development. Behaviors become symptoms when they occur very often, last a long time, occur at an unusual age or cause significant disruption to the child's and/or family's life.
Early detection, correct medication and psychotherapy are all vital, but an important piece too often overlooked is education of the family.
One local mother told me, “It is funny that the family is mostly overlooked when it comes to the treatment of mental illness. I would be completely lost and overwhelmed if it were not for the education and support I have received from the NAMI offices here in Oklahoma City. I have often wished I could go back and do a few years over. A lot of damage was done — that never should have happened had I known what I was doing and what I was dealing with.”
If something about your child's behavior is troubling you, there is help.
NAMI — The National Alliance on Mental Illness — is beginning a class titled BASICS. This is for parents who have an adolescent or younger child that is showing symptoms of mental illness or substance abuse. The course will be taught by trained teachers who are the parent or other caregiver of individuals who developed the symptoms of mental illness before the age of 13 years. So the parents of a 15-, 16-, 17- or 18-year-old are still welcome.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.