May 6-12, 2012, is Children's Mental Health Awareness Week. It is so important to remember that little ones also suffer from the affliction of mental illness, like Anxiety Disorders and ADHD, to name a few. Children do not have the ability to express and articulate their suffering and/or their needs as well as adults. It is critical that adults are educated about, and are aware of, the signs and symptoms of illness, so that kids can get appropriate care in a timely fashion.
|Me, at age 3|
I first displayed some symptoms of anxiety as a 6 month old. I am told that, for some reason, I was unable to keep any food down without vomiting. Thankfully, my pediatrician at the time was quite sharp, and she suggested that I had what she called a "nervous stomach." A few weeks of medication calmed me down enough so that I could keep in my nutrition and stop the cycle. Problem solved.
I recall having my first anxiety attack as a 3 year old. The event is still very clear in my mind to this day. We were eating spaghetti and I spilled my glass of milk. Like any child, I did not want to get in trouble for spilling my milk, but my reaction was completely over the top. I was simply overcome with anxiety and could not stop crying. My mother also recalls this incident, and at the time she was taken aback by how upset I became. My parents kept trying to reassure me that it was alright, but apparently I was a bit inconsolable.
It was during this same time period that an interesting incident occurred at my preschool. My mom came to pick me up, and I was very distressed. Apparently, the staff had rolled me around on the ground to teach me that there was no reason to be afraid of dirt. When my mom saw how disturbed I was by this, she scolded the staff and told them to never do that again! Of course, they actually did the exact right thing. However, my mom had no idea about this, and it angered her to see me so upset by this event.
The truth of the matter is that Anxiety/OCD treatment in the early 1970's was probably not very good. Even if my parents had recognized the signs of mental illness, it most likely would still have gone untreated, or perhaps have been treated in unhelpful ways. However, today, it is a completely different scenario. New treatments are available for a whole range of mental illnesses. Moreover, though stigma regarding mental illness continues to exist, it has certainly improved. Much work still remains to be done in this area, however. We need to talk about mental illness. We need to educate about mental illness. Lastly, we need to protect, care for, and provide treatment to, our littlest and most vulnerable members of society with mental illness.