Children are beautiful and innocent. Children are fragile, yet resilient. Children are like sponges. Children are our future and a reflection of their past. What about children who are born with, predisposed to or exposed to trauma that spawns, conditions that are threatening to themselves and to others. In the wake of the unthinkable, incomprehensible acts at Sandy Hook Elementary and the gut wrenching loss, should the reactive conversation be about gun control? Or should the obvious conversation finally be had? Childhood mental health can’t elude society and lawmakers anymore.
I am not only an Examiner contributor; I am also a parent of a child with troubling psychological conditions. I recognized physical, emotional and developmental delays and oddities in my child before my child was two years old. Following adoption, I had my child evaluated by a mental health clinician. Despite indicators of a severe condition, the clinician didn’t diagnose it due to the age of my child and the politics associated with insurance companies (and social stigma). The clinician didn’t want to label my child with such a severe diagnosis so early in life because it could impact our ability to access insurance benefits.
As an educated, analytical thinker, a person who grew up surrounded by mental health providers; and a person who feels you can’t take proper steps until you know what you are dealing with, I was frustrated by this result. I felt a proper diagnosis could open doors to services, treatment options and supports that could benefit my child and our family in advance of more severe symptoms. It didn’t happen. Instead, we’ve faced hurdles, hardships, accusations by agency workers who are charged with the responsibility of supporting children and families. Doubt and suspicion, rather than compassion, rooted in a philosophical foundation that parents must be the problem. This ideology clouds the signs of childhood psychological instabilities allowing events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to become reality.
When we moved to Connecticut, I thought there would be greater access to current day, cutting edge treatments and services to address my child’s diagnosed condition i.e. adjustment disorder and the more recent diagnosis of i.e. depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and, the often more severe condition of, reactive attachment disorder, among others. I was wrong.
Despite years of competent, compassionate, feverish efforts to research the conditions, potentially effective treatment modalities, and engage accessible treatment options, the general consensus that it must be ‘the parent’ has taken precedence. “The problem with ‘this’ child must be environmental neglect or parental mistreatment. It can’t be mental health issues. It’s a child.” is what we’ve experienced. Judgment, accusations, persecution and ignorant conduct follow, directed towards caregivers; and the child’s needs get overlooked. Conditions go untreated, treated inappropriately or even supported through naive interpretation.
Mental illness at any age is complicated, but as a nation we have neglected our responsibility to protect society, treat and care for those affected and take steps to be proactive in a compassionate manner when it comes to mental health services. There is no excuse. Budgets cannot dictate social safety. Ignorance and stigma cannot trump common sense when it comes to mental health services. We owe it to our children, we owe it to Newtown’s families and children, to fix this travesty.