Being aware of mental illness in youth

As parents, grandparents, caregivers, coaches, troop leaders and teachers, we know our children. We know what makes the little ones anxious, like the scary monster in the closet; what pre-occupies the teen’s mind, like their best friend who seems to spend a lot of time with someone else; and what potentially life-changing decisions the young adult child wrestles with, like where to go to college, what career to pursue, whom to marry.

Most of the situations they encounter, especially in the younger years, can be dealt with through supportive conversation, a hug, a smile, sometimes a joke, and by modeling and teaching skills such as priority setting, effective communication and stress management. And yet, sometimes things go wrong! On the continuum of wellness, the lines separating common “growing pains” from more serious, possibly life-threatening forms of mental illness are often blurry, confusing and can definitely be daunting. Commonly, physical or medical concerns about children are often dealt with timely, competently and with frequently happy outcomes; but the thought of a child possibly being affected by a mental health challenge that affects the way they think, feel or act can create quite different reactions and feelings in those around them.

Although most of us would agree that quality help for anyone affected by mental illness should be readily available, on a more personal level, the stigma, scrutiny and sadly, discrimination, still associated with those diagnoses prevent many adults from discussing their concerns with others and seeking appropriate help for children.

According to NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness – early detection and treatment can have a significant impact on the development of children and prevent the compounding of negative effects over their lifetime.

On the other hand, like most disease processes, if left untreated, mental health problems can spiral out of control and lead to ongoing significant impairment and less capacity for recovery. Just as we wouldn’t even consider telling a parent whose child has a toothache to not go to the dentist and stop brushing their teeth, we must consider our responses to concerned parents and caregivers who express concern about some aspect of their child’s thoughts, feelings or behavior.

We are extremely fortunate to have a large number of resources available in our area for Mental Health awareness and screening. Compeer Chautauqua would like to ask your support in joining our mission to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness by supporting anyone who has a concern regarding the mental health of a child to pursue professional screening and appropriate treatment as necessary.

As a Public Service Announcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services so appropriately put it: “when everything is running smoothly on the inside, our children thrive on the outside.” How we approach conversations about mental wellness can have great impact on the health and well-being of our future generations.

Chris Gibson is a Jamestown resident.