If your child asks for help, get them help!

Despite all the progress that has been made over the years, stigma still exists when it comes to mental illness. And there are still parents out there not getting their children the help they need because of this stigma. While people are becoming more and more open about mental health, there are still people who don't understand that mental illness is a medical condition that can happen to anyone — and it's no one's fault and it's not something you can just wish away.

Some parents may wrongly think, if their child struggles with their mental health, it's a reflection of their parenting. Or maybe they think there's no way that this could happen — not to their child. "Oh, they're not depressed or anxious or bipolar. They're just being an overdramatic adolescent." 

Within the last year, those of us in Michigan have been exposed to what can happen when a child doesn't get the help they need and when their issues are ignored. MLive recently reported that Ethan Crumbley, the accused 15-year-old Oxford High School shooter, told a friend he was in the grips of a mental breakdown and that, when he told his parents, they told him to "suck it up." 

Ethan was also experiencing hallucinations, according to his text message records, and he wrote, "I need help. I was thinking about calling 911 so I could go to the hospital, but then my parents would be really pissed.” 

While there is no excuse for what he did and the lives he took, testimony from the preliminary examination showed that Ethan's lack of mental health treatment could have been one contributing factor. His school counselor even told his parents that Ethan was displaying signs of “suicidal ideation." Who knows how differently things could have ended up if he would have been taken out of school immediately and admitted to psychiatric inpatient care as soon as he showed these signs of being a danger to himself and others?

Of course this is an extreme example, and this likely won't be the outcome if your child doesn't get help for their mental health. There's a relatively small number of people with serious mental illnesses who have committed violent crimes, according to the American Psychological Association. It's a myth that people with mental illness are responsible for a large portion of community violence.

But the chances of an adolescent turning to drugs or alcohol or self-harm to cope with their untreated mental illness or attempting suicide because they can't handle the pain —now those odds are much greater.

According to the CDC, "Mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders in childhood can cause long-term problems that may affect the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. Treating a child’s mental health problems as soon as possible can help children reduce problems at home, in school, and in forming friendships. It can also help with healthy development into adulthood."

I know there are many instances when a child will not share with their parents what they are going through and won't ask for help. They will plaster a smile on their faces and no one will know what's going on inside their heads. But, if your child does ask for help, get them help! If you do see signs of mental illness, get them help! And, no matter what, let your child know, if they are struggling, they can come to you and that you will always be that safe harbor for them. 

I know I'm not a parent. I'm just a cat mom. I never claim to be an expert, instead I write from experience and I write as a way to help reduce the stigma against mental illness. But I do know what it's like to be a child – after all I used to be one. And I know how big of a difference it would have made in my life if I would have been treated for my anxiety as a child, instead of waiting until I was 19 to get treatment. That's why I'm writing this. We need to get children and teens the help they need early in life, instead of them waiting until they're adults to finally get treatment, like the generations before them. 

Can you imagine — an entire generation emerging into adulthood as self-introspective people who know all the tools to treat their mental illnesses? That's the power that parents have today, and that's the kind of world I hope to live in someday. 

Therapy should be just as commonplace as taking your child to their annual check-up and getting them an inhaler for their asthma or a cast when they break their leg. Taking care of yours and your children's mental health is just as important as physical health — and we need to treat it as such. 

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