Let the conversation begin.
Why Does My Suicidal 11-Year Old’s Mental Illness Matter Less Than Another Child's Physical Illness?
Guest post by Kristian Keefer-McNeil, mother of two children with special needs and mental health advocate at specialneedskids101.com with a personal request from Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder of Hope Xchange, and Julie A. Fast, fellow mental health advocate, bestselling author, speaker and coach.
There are extensive awareness campaigns for many childhood illnesses. There are hospitals that will not turn sick children away even if a family cannot pay. And yet my eleven-year old daughter has an illness for which there is not nearly as much support, awareness or help.
She has bipolar disorder and several severe anxiety disorders.
When my friend’s six-year old boy was diagnosed with leukemia, I wept. When my neighbor found out her son had childhood diabetes, I prayed. When my former classmate prematurely gave birth to her daughter, I donated a few dollars even though I couldn't afford it.
Why Does Society View Mental Illness So Differently?
When confiding in my friends about my daughter, they say little or nothing at all. I try to explain to well-meaning friends what a day can be like for my daughter and those of us who love her and are trying so desperately to help her. I try to explain how difficult it is for her younger brother — who is on the autism spectrum — to understand that when his sister says hurtful words or does things that worry him, it is the disease speaking.
A few try to relate by saying things like “oh my kids did not get along either when they were little” or “all kids do that sometimes” or “it's just a phase.”
Would they say the same thing to our neighbor whose son has cancer? Would they say to her “I know how you feel because my daughter had a bad case of the flu last week?” Would they tell her that her child will "outgrow his cancer because it's just a phase.”
I certainly hope they would not say these things. But it still leaves me asking myself: why is it different for mental illness?
Like Physical Illness, Mental Illness Wreaks Havoc On Both the Individual and Caregivers
Why are there hospitals that will treat any seriously ill child even if a family has no insurance and no money, yet mental health providers can repeatedly deny families?
Children with mental health illnesses are ill in a different way, but these illnesses still have a major impact on their lives. For example, my daughter has days and weeks when she can barely sleep. There are times when she will be tempted to eat way too much or too little. Although there are times when she can get out of bed, it is almost impossible when she is depressed and her schoolwork suffers as a result. She even struggles to interact with her own family.
My little girl is sad and scared. Despite the love we show her, she often feels alone.
Like Physical Illness, Mental Illness Can Also Be Fatal
Some may point out that certain childhood illnesses can be fatal. It breaks my heart to think of any child or family having to face such a prognosis. But, you might be surprised to realize that I also face the possibility of my child’s illness being fatal.
Depression plays a major role in my daughter’s condition. She started to have suicidal thoughts as early as 10 years old. While I will do all I can to help and protect her from this, there are many parents whose children have lost their battle with mental illness and have died by suicide.
There are actually also other ways that my child’s illness could someday become fatal. I have heard stories of people who drink too much or use drugs as a result of their mental illness. I have heard of teens, some quite young, overdosing on drugs or having alcohol-related deaths as they try to live in a world that does not understand the depths of mental illness.
Like a parent of a child with cancer or another potentially fatal disease, I will do everything I can to make sure this does not happen. While I do know that many things can be done and there is a great deal of hope, I also realize that sometimes despite our best efforts, a child or teen may fatally succumb to their mental health illness.
I worry about all these things. I am vigilant in protecting my daughter.
Mental Illness Can Be Treated But Not Cured
My child’s illness is not so different from any other serious childhood disease. There are treatments, but unlike most other diseases, there are no cures for her mental illness.
People can learn to thrive despite their conditions. It may take a combination of interventions including medications, therapy, and hospitalizations. And, even though a person can learn techniques to live a full life with a mental health illness, it will always be a part of that child even into adulthood.
Mental Illness IS a Physical Illness
A person with a mental health illnesses has a brain that works a little differently. It doesn’t work in a better or a worse way, just in a different way. Fundamentally a mental health illness IS a physical health illness. There are biomedical reasons for these differences in the way the brain processes things and how the brain works.
As such, our children with mental health illnesses should have access to the same level of quality care and support as children with any other medical condition. But, the sad reality is that they do not. That quality of care and support is simply not available — at least not for my child and I suspect for many others as well.
Seeking 12 Kindred Spirits to Join Kerry Martin and Julie Fast in Donating $25 for Treatment We All Deserve
Kristian is an inspirational advocate for both of her children, as well as for special needs kids in general. However, while she is a brave warrior and mother, she's not comfortable asking for help.
Julie Fast and I are asking for your help on her behalf.
If just 12 people join Julie and I and donate $25, we would be able to close the gap and raise the needed $400 to cover out-of-pocket costs for a needed psychological evaluation. Please consider making a donation to Kristian's GoFundMe campaign today. Let's bring back the sparkle in her daughter's eyes and the smile to her face.
With heartfelt gratitude friends for giving Kristian hope that yes, her daughter's health does not matter less because her illness is a mental versus a physical one.
~ Kerry & Julie