What Happens When We Deny Mental Health Issues
I am in the teaching profession, and have been working with children for over 35 years. Often, I’m deeply disturbed by parents’ complete refusal to accept the fact that their child may be suffering from a mental disorder. As an outsider, I am able to see aberrant behaviour in the child, but parents are often in complete denial of the current reality.
Case in point: A child of class six stopped coming to school. At first, the parents said he was not well. Then, they said he was bored of school. After that, they said he was missing his elder brother who had gone away to hostel... there was one excuse after the other. Weeks became months, but the child did not come back to school. The parents were called in. This time, they said he will start after the term exams are over. In essence, more excuses. It’s been eight months. The child hasn’t come back to school.
In one last attempt to mainstream the child, the school counsellor was sent to visit the child at his home. She came back and reported the following:
The child had not bathed for one month. He ate the same food for breakfast and lunch daily. Dinner was a different item from breakfast and lunch, but was always ordered in from the same restaurant. He was prone to bouts of extreme anger during which he threw whatever object he could get his hands on, at his parents or the walls of the room. At times he had picked up smaller pieces of furniture, and hurled these items at the walls. He would spend up to 20 minutes in the bathroom, washing his hands. He had developed a habit of spitting very regularly because he felt there was something stuck in his throat which he could not swallow or throw out.
The parents, however, maintained their child was fine, very intelligent and that this was a phase which would be over soon. They seemed to be concerned only with whether their child would be promoted to the next class, and that he shouldn’t “lose” a year. What they didn’t comprehend is that he had already lost eight months of his very precious childhood, and was in danger of losing a lot more.
The counsellor wanted to know if they had gone to the psychiatrist as she had recommended many months ago. They said they had gone six months ago, and they had been prescribed a medicine, which they didn’t buy or give the child and had subsequently not gone back to the psychiatrist.
What “normalcy” do the parents see in these behaviour patterns?
The child is not functioning like a normal 12 year old anymore, and has retreated to a state where he is controlled by his obsessions and compulsions. His intelligence is getting lost amidst his unaddressed mental health issues. He needs immediate help.
The truth of the situation is that we as a society are completely in denial of mental health issues. The stigma is so strong that we would rather let our child slide into mental oblivion and become completely cut off from reality than seek expert help and treatment for a condition that is manageable with counselling, occupational therapy and medicines. I as a education professional am saddened beyond words when I see a child being so terribly neglected on account of fear of social stigma, lack of awareness and emotional courage or plain superstition.
It’s time to change this. Seek help. Seek support. Talk about it. Don’t be ashamed of yourself or your loved one. The suffering is real, not imaginary. Treatment is possible. There was so much stigma attached to sexual abuse. Now, the taboo is slowly but surely eroding. Similarly, we can find the courage to take baby steps to address the scourge of mental disease.
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