Children's Mental Health Awareness: Erasing the Stigma and Embracing the Future
Today is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Today, we shine a national spotlight on the importance of caring for every child’s mental health. Here is my story.
I grew up feeling the need to be perfect. I did everything in my power to control the things I could. I was smart, popular, well-mannered, athletically inclined and the worst, cute.
I was this tiny little toe-head blonde that did not weigh more than an ounce and was still 4’8” in the 6th grade. I was not afraid to speak in public (and actually was a champion oralist), was a national baton twirling champion and a gifted dancer.
From the outside I had it all.
I meandered through my childhood as if all the external obstacles in front of me did not exist. See, my childhood was made up of one lie after another.
My parents were divorced, but lived together (who knew).
My brother had a different dad (I knew this later).
My brother’s father was my mom’s first husband (truth, he was actually a black gentleman to whom my mother was never married).
My father was a loving husband and father. (Truth he was an angry, jealous alcoholic).
My mom’s third husband was cool. (Truth, he was 21 years her junior and in my humble opinion, a child).
My childhood was wonderful. (Truth, my father is a convicted felon).
As I sit here today as a 36 year-old mother and wife, I cannot fathom any little girl, let alone my own, dealing with all of this at such a young age. Quite frankly, I am amazed I survived. But the scary sad truth is that no one knew I was suffering.
You see, children do not wear their thoughts on their sleeves. No, they cope by internalizing or acting out in other ways, and you just never know what a child might be going through as they suffer in silence. It is time to join the movement and transform children’s mental health ya’ll.
The sad truth is that mental health is truly a silent, invisible illness, and it is time to recognize the sad reality that children who appear to be thriving on the outside, may be facing a mental health struggle inside.
Because we don’t wear our thoughts on our sleeves, we ALL play a role in being advocates, conversation starters and supporters of children’s mental health. It is why I share my story and will continue to share it—it is my hope that no child suffers alone.
I wish my story stopped at my childhood, but unfortunately, the issues I faced as a child, followed me into my teenage years and into adulthood.
Children learn how to have healthy relationships, whether with their parents, friends, or a significant other by seeing them in action. When I hit my teenage years and really about 14 and began to actually date, I realized I craved male attention. Yeah, typical daddy issues.
I learned to lie and hide things from boys and men.
I learned to never get too close because you will get hurt.
I learned that you never tell anyone the truth because it could hurt you.
I learned not to trust anyone, including myself.
As my teenage years progressed, I found myself more and more obsessed with finding someone that would give me the picture perfect life for which I longed.
But trying to do that in a web full of lies was just setting me up for failure. I battled anxiety and depression, but didn’t know it. No one told me that those feelings of emptiness and pressure were not “normal” and could be treated. I had no resources and nowhere to turn. Depression was also not something that you talked about in open. It was taboo, especially as a teenager—I mean what could I have to feel depressed about?
During college and my early 20s, I continued on the roller coaster of emotions and destructive behavior because I simply was too afraid to admit I needed help.
I did not value myself at all and had no concept of self-worth.
It wasn’t until my divorce that I truly reached out for help and was no longer ashamed of the fact that I suffered from a mental health illness. But I can’t help but think that if people were more aware of the signs and symptoms of mental illness in children I would not have suffered all those years in silence.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital created the On Our Sleeves platform to break stigmas, start important conversations and raise much-needed funds for behavioral health research and care. The goal is not just awareness—it’s a way to START the conversation and BREAK the stigma that surrounds children’s mental health.