Good afternoon, readers! This week, I’m featuring an article from NPR related to the early detection of mental illness in children. Child psychologist Rahil Briggs states that half of all children show signs of mental illness before age 14.
On a personal note, I began experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder around age seven or eight. My mother had gone to prison when I was six years old, and I went twice a month to visit her at the correctional facility that was several hours from my home. By this point, nightmares were a common occurrence–I’d had them regularly since age five–so my guardian and other relatives didn’t think much of it when the frequency increased slightly after these visits began. There was some talk of finding a therapist for me, but the idea was abandoned.
One of the earliest memories I have of PTSD-related symptoms was one night when I was attempting to play chess with my aunt in the basement of my grandmother’s home, where I lived for the majority of my childhood and adolescence. I began to feel odd, detached from my own body and my surroundings. I remember saying to my aunt, “Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream?” because that was the only way I could describe it at the time.
She had no idea what I was talking about and gave me a strange look, a reaction for which I can’t exactly blame her–if I weren’t “in the know” about the symptoms of PTSD, I would have found such a statement very strange.
As a child, I was generally calm and reserved, but I did occasionally “act out.” I would get panicky and anxious, a tiny ball of pent-up energy and what I can only describe as rage at nothing in particular. That energy had nowhere to go, so it was directed inward, causing lasting damage before finally exploding outward. I would storm around the house in a dark mood, only to erupt moments later in a fit of crying so intense I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
My family was helpless to help me because they didn’t understand–or perhaps didn’t want to accept–the reality of what was happening to me. Bipolar disorder, which has spread throughout the family tree like Spanish moss, was beginning to wreak havoc on my still-developing brain.
Childhood mental illness is a tricky subject. It’s hard to recognize, and it’s terrifying, both for the sufferer and the child’s loved ones. It can strike anyone at any time, regardless of socioeconomic class or education level or how strong the family’s ties are. Therefore, it’s especially important for parents to remember and impress upon their children that it is an illness like any other and is not a moral or character judgment. It is not evidence of parental failings or proof that the child has not been loved enough. It simply is, and the earlier it is detected, the earlier treatment and healing can begin.
Did you start showing signs of mental illness in childhood, readers? How did your family/caregivers react?
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