Back to School–Mental Health 101

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Hard to believe that in a couple (short) weeks, school will resume once again. For those starting their education and those continuing their education, the big day is getting closer and closer. For some parents, they are probably relieved that they’re kid(s) will be out of their hair and back to the confines of school getting their education. Every summer around this time I would be MAD. I hated when summer vacation ended so quickly and the new school year arrived. I was your typical child that had to be dragged into school kicking and screaming. “NO! I DON’T WANT TO GO!” That was me from kindergarten all through high school. It’s not that I hated school, I just didn’t want to go. Not that I was a bad student, I was quite the musician in music class and graduated with a B-C average. I was more into music, and English class, and which friend was hosting a cool party over the weekend. Yes, I was a little “monster” in high school and may have had a little too much fun instead of focusing on my studies. Oh well, we go around life once, right?

With that aside in a previous post: “The Importance of Mental Health Education in Schools” is an important post to re-read and a vital discussion to have with your children as they head back into the halls of a classroom. If you recall, two states in the US are requiring “mental health education” in their curriculum and I was excited. Honestly, this kind of education should’ve been implemented YEARS AGO. I was in high school during Colombine, during 9/11 and my high school had a popular classmate commit suicide off campus. What I remember during those tumultuous times, was that the entire school was watching CNN Live and watching the horror of Columbine and 9/11. Everyone was dead silent. The principal went over the PA speaker and said: “What can we do as a society to prevent this from happening here and anywhere?” Great question.

Educating society on the importance of mental health is very important to me and is also the first step in the process. Hello….this blog is helping by raising awareness for people living with mental illness and educating others that don’t have mental illness. Mental illness is NOT a new thing. If you look at the various cowardly acts of violence that have occurred in schools nationwide, there is something that triggers people do something like this. In the case of the Santa Fe and Parkland High School shootings, the suspects acted irrational and cowardly in a violent manner that could’ve been prevented. Former classmates knew that the suspect was “off” and noticed a change in their behavior. Family members probably thought that there wasn’t nothing wrong. If you claim that there’s nothing wrong and one of your relative’s (or your own child) commits a heinous act like, then you’re living in denial.

Education about mental health should start at home. One of the many life lessons that you teach your children should include this. Why, you may ask? Because teenage and childhood depression are at an all time high. Especially, school shootings and…suicide. My parents drilled in so many “Parent Talks or Lectures” in me that they could write a book or host a parenting seminar called “Parenting 101”. Remember that no parent is perfect, but communication is a huge part of a relationship. I was a child of depression and it got worse in high school and college. I could’ve been one of those kids that committed suicide (but I didn’t), I could’ve shot someone (but I didn’t), and could’ve racked up quite a lengthy rap sheet (but I didn’t). My mother has depression and schizophrenia and she talked about her struggles in private. My father (doesn’t have mental illness) was big on communication. After my diagnosis, I started becoming more introverted, withdrawing from school, ignoring my studies, became angry, sad, moody and bitchy, and started dressing differently. My father was the one that got me ready for school all the way to high school. You couldn’t fool this smart guy with a Ferris Bueller scam like in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Nope, he never fell for it.

One time, my counselor and my teacher contacted my parents about my homework and behavior. They saw me go from an extroverted happy child to a sad introverted child that kept to herself. They asked both of my parents: “What’s going on? She’s a great kid with great potential. Something is not right.” They were right. My parents talked with me until I was blue in the face and I had to admit that depression was kicking me in the butt. I needed help before it was too late.

Talking shouldn’t be that hard. We all communicate in our relationships with people. Why ignore something as serious as mental illness. For me, the most awkward parent conversation was “the sex talk.” When I was younger, this was the weirdest conversation to have. But it’s important and natural to talk to your kids about sex ed. You may panic and wonder how you are going to approach your child about talking about mental illness. Trust me, talking about mental illness with your child isn’t easy. I don’t have kids, yet. And I can only imagine that conversation. This type of conversation is something to ponder about. Talk it over with your significant other, your doctor, friends, family or someone else close to you that you can fully trust to talk about it. Think about what you’re going to say to your children. How do you start that conversation?

Great question: How do you start the conversation? Get out your laptop, iPad or legal pad and a pen and start writing down ideas. Brainstorm first, and do some research. There are tons of websites devoted to mental illness. You probably would fall out of your chair reading the statistics on people including children and teens living with depression and mental illness. It also wouldn’t hurt to consult with your primary doctor and voice your concerns about how to start the conversation with your child about mental illness. You can even read blogs about people that live with mental illness like me! There are more on http://www.nami.org. (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

After you’re done gathering facts, statistics, and stories of mental health sufferers; now comes the hard part: talking! Sit your child or children down and have a heart to heart (serious) conversation about mental health and our society. Talk in a firm and concerned voice to your child or children and educate them about this. Let yourself talk or lecture first, then present some research, and start a Q & A afterwards. Let them ask you all of the questions that they want to. But always instill in your child is that this is serious and they shouldn’t mock or criticize a fellow classmate that may have this disease. One of the parent talks that I remember was the “Everyone is different” lecture. There was a kid in my class that had epilepsy and would go into seizures. I asked my parents why this kid was so different from the other kids. I didn’t know what epilepsy was at the time. So I asked and my parents told me.

An example of a conversation can start out like this (This is up to you!): “First and foremost, I love you and we need to talk about something serious. Mental health. There are so many people living in this world including people of your age group that live with mental illness. Mental illness is a serious and life-threatening condition that causes changes in the brain that affect your behavior, your thoughts and your mood. Illnesses include depression, anxiety, panic disorder, schizophrenia, Bipolar I and II disorder and etc. This can cause you to become hospitalized and will endanger your life if you self-harm yourself and/or an innocent person. Most kids your age are usually depressed, going through so many emotional and hormonal changes, and it’s a confusing time.” Again, this is just a sample. You can start with this and divulge it more into a lengthy discussion with your child or children.

It does help to mention (and recognize these if this does happen) the crucial signs and symptoms of mental illness:

  • Withdrawal from society and schoolwork
  • Abandoning friends and family
  • Loss of interest in things
  • Little to no energy
  • Behavior changes such as mood
  • Decrease or increase in their appetites
  • Violent behavior
  • Possible drug or alcohol usage
  • Self harm such as cutting, committing suicide, or talking about killing themselves or someone else
  • Too much time on social media (Keep an eye on this one!)

The list is not all-inclusive, but this a guideline of the major symptoms. Also talk about suicide and violence. This is very important. I’ve witnessed suicide attempts by my own mother. One of my classmates pulled a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. Yeah! Frightening.

Being open and honest with your child helps them in so many ways. If you didn’t talk about mental illness with your child, what are you going to do if they do become depressed and you don’t do something. What if they take their life and you didn’t know that they were suffering? What would do you? What would you have done to prevent it? Remember that aside from teachers, your child or children interact with friends and you, too. If they all tell you that something is “off” with your child, don’t sit back and do nothing. Communicate with them and get the conversation going. Get help! You can’t be naïve and think that mental illness only happens to some people. It can happen to anyone. Take a good look at the world that exists out there. It’s both a loving and cruel world. There’s so much stigma on us sufferers that deal with this on a daily basis. And that’s because most people are uneducated this matter. We need to talk and end the stigma ourselves. So before you send your child or children back to school, think about this before the bell rings.

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Let’s TALK!

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