Op-Ed: Who Speaks for the Children?

Stacey Holmes is a parent of two children at San Carlos Charter Learning Center.

Who Speaks for the Children?

By Stacey Holmes

What can any of us say about Newtown? The best we can hope for is that something good comes from something so bad. No, I am not taking on gun control or violence in America. I want to explore something near and dear to my heart – mental health. You see, my mother, sister and I have all struggled with mental illnesses, including OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), depression, anxiety, and postpartum.

I am here to use this horrendous event as fuel to ignite a fire around children’s mental health. Yes, we want to prevent the behavior that happened in Newtown. It’s obvious when someone physically hurts someone else. But what about the behavior and beliefs that are emotionally harmful? It sure would be nice to help those children too.

Did you know?

· Mental health problems affect one in every five minors at any given time. (1)
· Fewer than 20% of minors with mental health problems are receiving the help they need. (2)
· 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. (3)

I think that we, collectively, can create a better environment to identify and address mental health issues in minors. The majority of people with serious mental illness are not violent. But people are quick to draw conclusions. They want to figure out why this type of thing happens.

As Dr. Harold Kopewicz says, “Tying violence to mental illness is a disservice in the highest degree. It fuels the stigma that mental disorders are dangerous or scandalous and prevents people from seeking the life-changing help they need.”

When I look back at my childhood I can see some signs, but that is with the benefit of hindsight.

· My nickname was “worry wart” (maiden name is Wharton).
· I had a disproportionate reaction to my carpet getting dirty.
· I would check multiple times to make sure my curling iron was off.
· I obsessed over getting good grades; i.e., “A’s”. When I got my first “B” in high school I thought life was over. I was never going to get into a good college so it was all over for me.

Of course, a child that worries and wants all “As” is, in no way, destined to serious mental health issues. But for me, this story brings up the need to help them too. Yes, they can go on under the radar, never doing anything destructive to others, but they should be helped too. I know I would have benefited from help in dealing with the beliefs that didn’t serve me. It wasn’t until my early 30s that I started working on myself through traditional therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), spiritual work, etc.

It is easier as an adult to take control. But what about the kids? Like the Lorax who speaks for the trees, who speaks for the kids? We all must!

I keep an eye out on my children’s behavior (There is a statistical correlation between a family history of depression and an increased risk of developing depression.). I have the benefit of my own experiences and seeing first-hand the positive results of treatment. But most importantly, I am not shy about sharing. I have learned to put my ego aside and make sure my voice is heard.

It tears me apart to hear about situations where people ask for help and are shut down. For instance, after Newtown, one mother blogged about the issues with her son. When she asked a social worker about her options, she was told the only thing that could be done was to put him in jail. The Anarchist Soccer Mom, Thinking the Unthinkable

I know that when we see strange behavior in children we want to turn away. It can be uncomfortable. It is easier to tell ourselves, “not my problem”. But whether you see a child with clearly violent behavior, or a child who continues to experience excessive anxiety and would never hurt a flea, don’t turn the other cheek. We must combat the destructive social inertia of “mind your own business”. While we don’t live in villages anymore, it takes a village. So speak up!

· Ask for advice from a pediatrician

· Tell a teacher or administrator

· Utilize the online symptom checker questionnaire

· Contact a local resource
Mental Health Association of San Francisco
Mental Health Treatment Facility Locator
· Utilize national resources
National Institute of Mental Health
Mental Health America
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Mental Health Advocacy Group

I vow to bring awareness and knowledge to my community. What that looks like, I don’t know yet. Stay tuned!

(1) http://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/nih5/Mental/guide/info-mental-a.htm
(2) http://www.wholechildeducation.org/podcast/what-does-it-take-for-children-to-be-mentally-healthy
(3) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/treatment-of-children-with-mental-illness-fact-sheet/index.shtml

To contact the author, email staceywharton@yahoo.com.

[Editor's note: If you would like to contribute an op-ed piece to San Carlos Patch, email the editor at joan.dentler@patch.com.]

Julie January 16, 2013 at 09:47 PM
Stacey - your article is well written and provides an opportunity for an important dialog that many are afraid to have. Thank you for your bravery!


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