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Today: Speak Up to Destigmatize Mental Illness and Addiction in Children

Although we still have a very long way to go, Americans in recent years have become much less judgmental and negative toward adults who suffer from mental illness. Unfortunately, the same progress hasn’t been made when it comes to the issue of children’s mental health. In fact, just last week, a friend of mine told me that she was openly ridiculed by another mutual friend when she revealed that she was taking her elementary-school-age daughter to see a therapist after the little girl began showing signs of depression and anxiety. The friend teased her, indicating she was overreacting to her child’s symptoms.

Unfortunately, the mistaken idea that kids can’t experience actual, diagnosable mood disorders like depression remains a pervasive one, and even parents of severely mentally ill children still encounter disbelief and criticism when they openly discuss their kids’ mental health disorders. As the mother of a drug addicted child, I know that this societal stigma and shame  played a role in my own dangerous decision to delay getting help for my son Henry, who died of a drug overdose one year ago this month.

I wish I had made the decision to speak up and speak out much sooner than I eventually did, but I am so glad that I finally did.

Since my son’s death, I have spoken as openly as possible about how shame factored negatively into the way I dealt with my child’s mental health issues. I want to let other parents know that they should not be ashamed like I was, and that they should not delay seeking evaluations or care for their own children. The earlier parents seek help for their kids showing symptoms of addiction or other mental health disorders, the more helpful doctors, medications, therapists and counselors can be. And every time one of us stands up and speaks out, without shame or fear, it helps another parent do the same.  Ultimately, this will save lives.

Today is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.  If you are the parent of a child who suffers from addiction or another mental health disorder, please consider standing up and being counted in some public way today – no matter how small. Maybe you could tell a coworker or friend about your child’s mental health disorder for the first time, or maybe you could share a link related to mental health issues on Facebook or Twitter.

And if you are a parent who suspects that your child or teenager may need a mental health screening or other services, here’s a great place to start in finding help in your own community.

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