Mental illness views: Europe and the U.S. compared

I really enjoy reading what Pete Earley writes.   He’s a journalist, but I think it’s his heart for the plight of individuals with mental illness and the least fortunate that really make his work interesting for me. His latest blog post wonders if Europeans view mental illness differently than we do here in the U.S.

Honestly, after reading the posts as well as knowing some people from Europe, I think that it is both the case that they view and treat people with mental illness differently.  One of the things that struck me the most reading the opinions of those Pete posed the question to was the perspective that in the U.S. it is feeling that, “Everyone must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”  I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree that here in the U.S. my view is that overwhelmingly people feel that way, and it makes me very sad.

We stigmatize, we point fingers, we do many things to avoid being truly, meaningfully helpful to others.  It is always “someone else’s problem.”  Now, of course, I am not saying that everyone feels this way, but when I look at comments on news stories, especially anything to do with the welfare system or stories like that of Kelly Thomas it is apparent to me how very far we have to go in this country regarding empathy and compassion.

Having a child (or more than one) with a mental illness is an incredibly difficult and overwhelming prospect.  Once they get to be teenagers, it becomes doubly so. Families are faced with the prospect of a child turning 18 and then, for all purposes regarding care, being “on their own.”

One of the interesting comments Pete received was that Europeans, “are more comfortable with a “need for treatment” commitment standard….rather than only dangerousness.”  I wish, here in the U.S., we were more focused on a need for treatment standard.  Pete said that he received jaw drops when he mentioned, “The largest public mental health facility in the U.S. is a jail….”  That fact is really something that should make everyone’s jaw drop.  That is absolutely an unacceptable standard.

I’ll leave you with the ending of Pete’s article, which I thought was very poignant.

“What I can say is that every foreign crowd who hears me talk about how our jails and prisons have become our new asylums are stunned. How can a nation that values individual freedom so highly take away the freedom of  individuals who are ill and need help?

They expect more of us.”

Thanks, Pete.  I always count on you to have something very valuable to contribute.

Peace,

Jenifer

Internalizing disorders

I had actually intended on writing something else today, but this has been at the forefront of our lives for quite awhile, so I think this is the post for today.

Both of my boys are heavily internalizing.  This presents many challenges on many fronts.  One of the biggest issues that face my boys is others (including therapists and psychiatrists) not understanding what is really going on.  Internalizing tends to not be “believable”.  By that I mean, when others don’t “see” it, they assume it doesn’t exist.

When psychosis, processing deficits, anxiety and other traits are present, there is a good chance all of that will be internalized rather than externalized.  Many kids have a combination of both internalizing and externalizing behaviors, but those who are heavily internalizers do not often present as “behavior disordered” in public settings, generally.  They reserve all of that behavior for the safety of home (and family members).  One of the reasons that the family dynamic is so difficult for those with bipolar disorder/schizophrenia and the like is that most of the chaos and bad behavior occurs at home.  This also leads to “blame” in the form of others criticizing parenting techniques, manners, etc.  The reality is that when kids are able to “hold it together” in public, it ALL comes out at home.  This stress on the family is overwhelming for the parents, siblings and the child with the issues.

Imagine this scenario: Child A with X illness has had a “wonderful” day at school.  According to the teacher they displayed “model” behavior in the classroom, had fun at recess, ate their lunch appropriately and did all of the required classwork.  Perfect.  Then, said child comes home.  You ask how their day has gone and they say, “fine.”  Little brother walks into the room and says, “Hi, Child A!  Look what I made for you with this play-doh!”  Child A turns around and sees the creation and pushes little brother over, screaming, “Why did you use that Play doh!  I was going to use it to make something special for Dad!”  To a parent of a child without a disorder, it looks like just absolutely unacceptable behavior.  While I won’t say that the behavior is acceptable, I have had experience with why this occurs.

What the teacher didn’t know, or see, was that Child A had a very difficult day.  The classroom, at a certain point, was very noisy and it induced some sensory overload.  It took an inordinate amount of concentration to keep Child A focusing on their work and not reacting negatively to the excess stimuli.  When a small argument broke out with two classmates that took up quite a bit of the teacher’s attention and distracted the class from a favorite exercise, Child A’s frustration was rapidly growing.  In order not to become a behavior problem too, Child A ripped a piece of paper over and over into pieces to keep calm.  When another child having a bad day was frustrated and crying excessively, Child A’s anxiety grew and it took a large amount of energy to keep calm and not start crying as well.  During practice in one of their more challenging subjects, Child A’s processing issues were making it hard to do the work properly, which made Child A angry.  Instead of showing the teacher anger, Child A said they had a stomach ache and spent a large amount of time in the bathroom.  During recess, Child A couldn’t find anyone to do the same thing they wanted to do, so Child A spent time alone on a swing and felt very lonely and sad.  On the bus ride home, Child A was so tired they fell asleep and the bus aide got angry when it took too long to wake Child A up.  Child A arrived home thoroughly done with a very trying day.

Children with internalizing disorders often have days like this. Sometimes, every day.  When they are non communicative or non verbal, it makes it all the more difficult to be helpful.  This is a perfect example of, “what you see is not often what you get.”  There are educators, professionals and administrators out there who refuse to acknowledge that this exists.  I know because I spent months and a lot of money battling some.  I have spent the better part of eleven years dealing daily with internalizing disorders in my family.  It is chaotic, overwhelming, sad, difficult and exhausting.  What families need most is support and to be heard and understood.  This is not always readily available or an easy task.  Online forums available for families of children with mental health challenges can be helpful.  Sometimes just having a willing ear is enough.  Other times, respite is necessary.  Some mental health agencies have mentor programs which are very helpful.  Local NAMI agencies have groups to attend that are helpful, and http://www.thebalancedmind.org/ is a great forum to relate with other families going through similar challenges.

Peace,

Jenifer

Welcome!

This blog is for everyone.  It is written from personal perspective and experience and directed to mental health consumers, siblings, parents, friends and other family members of those with childhood mental illness.  It is also written to educate all those who come into contact with those we love that suffer at the hands of any mental illness.  This life is not for the faint of heart.

In this blog, I hope to help others advocate for themselves by providing resources, answering questions and providing perspectives to a very large and complicated set of issues.  To anyone who reads this, please remember that I am not a medical doctor, a psychologist or psychiatrist.  However, that in no way means I’m not an expert in a sense.  I have filled my life with countless experiences, reading (medical journals, articles, books and studies) and advocated for my own family through several hardships.  I hope to pass on a little of my “expertise” so that others can benefit from what I have learned, hard won as it has been.  

One thing I can say for sure is that WE are strong, together.  All parents, caregivers, guardians, must stand together to advance the cause of advocacy for the mentally ill. 

Namaste.

Jenifer