Mental Illness in Children – Kai Raine
In a world of sophisticated medicine, mental health is one of the slowest areas to catch up. In many cases, there are no tests to prove the presence or absence of an illness. Instead, doctors must look at symptoms and make an educated guess. This leads to misdiagnoses to this day, even in well-known diseases with established tests. This becomes even more complicated when considering the ramifications for children.
The driving force of patients to seeking help for any mental illness is self-awareness. In the case of children, this responsibility becomes the parents’. Sometimes there are no right answers; in this case, there is a right answer. There is also no way to know what answer is the right one. For instance, if a child goes through a potentially traumatic event, she does not necessarily have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If she is unaffected, her parents making a fuss could potentially create a problem where there would have been none. Yet if that same child had been traumatized and went untreated, the untreated disorder could dramatically alter her life.
Society tends to dictate the side on which we err. In the some places, such as most of the West, the trend seems to be to err on the side of assuming that there is a problem, providing therapy and possibly drugs ‘just to be safe.’ In other places, such as parts of Asia and Africa, the trend is to err on the side of assuming there is no problem. Partially because there is a low awareness of mental health in society at large, parents may take the notion of therapy as a personal affront. Even those more educated in such matters may hesitate, knowing that people around them might hear ‘mental illness’ and think ‘retard.’
Frighteningly, it is not as simple as asking the child’s opinion. Children have opinions, needs and wants, and can be very vocal about them. However, children also lack the experience to be selfaware enough to make informed decisions, even about their own minds. A victim of PTSD may need to be coaxed into realizing that she is not alright. A depressed child may insist that he is not depressed. The decision lies in the hands of the parents: parents who may not be any better equipped to make the judgement call.
There is no rule book. Neither parenting nor modern psychiatry is an exact science. Awareness, however, can make a great difference. If there is greater awareness of the potential mental illnesses and the potential solutions, that alone can change lives for the better. Until science can discovers biological markers, parents can only listen to their children and make informed decisions. Raising awareness is the best way to attempt to make sure that those informed decisions are more often correct than not.
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