"No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal."
My interest in abnormal psychology has sky-rocketed since I took a class on it this past semester. The information was incredibly engaging so I soaked it up like a sponge (which rarely happens for me in school). However, just because I've taken a few psychology courses in college doesn't mean I know anything. I may know what it's like to live with depression. I may have been friends with someone who has suffered from severe anxiety. But I don't understand what it's like to live with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, a personality disorder, or a cognitive disorder. No matter how much I read about these disorders, I can't fully comprehend what these people and their families deal with on a day to day basis from reading a textbook. But, I can try my best to understand them, and I can try my best to help. One thing I loved about this class was that we were required to volunteer at some sort of mental health facility so we could actually work with patients dealing with these kinds of things. At first, I was terrified, quite honestly. But I went to an orientation at a local mental hospital and decided I wanted to volunteer with kids at an elementary school at the hospital. I put off going there for as long as I could, but as mid-semester approached, I realized I had to start soon if I wanted to get in all 22 hours.
So I went. And I loved it.
From the moment I met those kids, I really did love them all. Some were difficult to talk to, some were overly frustrated by school work, some threw tantrums, and some couldn't have stayed on task if their lives had depended on it. But they were just like any other kids. They had lots of random stories to tell, they got super excited about PE and story time, and they just wanted to run around and play.
In order for them to be admitted to the hospital, these kids had to have been considered a danger to themselves or others. But, they aren't scary. They are intelligent and they want friends and a good life just as much as anyone else does. They don't want school and social interactions to be so hard for them. But they have to deal with different emotional, cognitive and other types of disorders. That is one reason I really felt happy for those kids though. They have the opportunity to attend school in a safe environment with kids dealing with similar issues. Where they are all learning how to, not "get over" their problems exactly, but how to not let them be as much of a stumbling block for them so that they can do the things they want to in life and so they can have good relationships. They learn how to recognize when their anger might be out of control and they learn mechanisms for calming down. They learn what is appropriate for social interactions and what is not. They learn that, if they can focus on their schoolwork and not get too frustrated, they can do it and that they are smart. I saw this working. I saw one kid get really angry about an argument with another kid, but he stepped out and counted to forty and no one had to tell him to, because he knew that was how he was going to calm down. I saw one kid get so frustrated over his writing homework, but I told him he could do it and we focused on one word at a time together and he completed the whole thing and he even understood the difference between common and proper nouns by the end. It was amazing, it was just as exhausting and frustrating for me to watch him have to go through that as it was for him to actually do it, so when he finished I felt so proud of this kid. I saw these kids work out their arguments with each other so they could all have fun playing games. I admire the teachers and their patience. I could see that this was not an easy job for them, by any means, but they put their hearts and souls into helping these kids learn and develop in ways that will be extremely beneficial to them even just in every day life.
I think it's important to help children with mental illnesses early on, so they can learn how to understand what's exactly is hard for them and how to cope with it while they are still developing and it's maybe a little easier for them to develop healthy habits that can help. I think it's also important for children to get this help in order to help their families like the mother in this article. She loves her son but she could probably really benefit from the help schools like the one I volunteered at could provide for her and her son. Kids with mental illnesses don't belong in jail.
I love this quote by a commenter on the original blog post of this article, Meghan says:
"The families become so exhausted as they continuously run out of options. There are schools out there that work with these children--not to "fix" them, but to help them to heal, and to give them strategies to cope with everyday life in a world that often seems alien to them. Thank you for this post. I hope that people begin to see the necessity of focusing on mental illness awareness and that it is not something that people can respond to by "get over it". It's so much more than that. "
Hopefully, help can become more accessible to people who suffer from mental illnesses, not to "fix" them but to help them learn how to deal with their struggles healthily so they can live their lives and dreams the way they want to.
I am keeping the families and friends of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in my prayers. Hopefully we can converse more about mental health awareness in our country so we can work together to help and make changes.