Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. This blog post expresses an opinion based on personal experience.
A link to ABC affiliate KXXV-TV’s report on an American Academy Of Pediatrics recommendation appears at the end of this post. The story is reposted on CNN’s site. I couldn’t get either video to play, but maybe you’ll be able to watch the reports. At the very least, please read the text.
The story includes statements from a man whose son committed suicide. I’ll never understand the agony this parent has been through, mainly because I don’t have children and no one who is close to me has committed suicide.
There’s another reason I’ll never understand: Even when separate people go through similar trauma, to a certain extent they’re each alone with their pain. There’s a saying about two people in the same foxhole not experiencing the same war. They’re kindred spirits in some ways, but not others.
That said, the recommendation from the Academy may be a policy which will save lives when pediatricians and parents are stable and unselfish people.
We should be careful not to overestimate human nature, though. I know I grew up in an environment which was worse than most, but there are other children and teenagers who will see their problems escalate after they’re identified as “at risk.”
Some kids feel alone in the world because they have no supportive adults. They’re surrounded by adult relatives, teachers, et al, but those adults might be addicted, mentally ill, overworked, foolish or just plain corrupt. Parents, teachers and pediatricians are not exempt from human condition problems, and it’s impossible to know how many young people are caught in the middle of that.
If my pediatrician ever asked me about problems at home, he would have had one motive. He would have repeated everything I said to my mother, and then chuckled to himself about how much trouble he’d caused.
That’s a scenario. In reality, if I’d been grilled by the pediatrician, I wouldn’t have told him anything. I would have said everything was just fine, while feeling very uncomfortable. He was creepy.
I wasn’t completely quiet with everyone, though, even if I did hold back the worst of the information until I was in my late teens and found a psychologist who offered real support. It took a while to get comfortable before I told him very much, though. He may have helped to save my life by being supportive, and not speaking to my parents.
What could he have done if someone had to intervene, though? The proper protocol, whether it was having the police escort me to a psychiatric ward or calling my parents, would have pushed me over the edge. I don’t think I would have survived it, so I recognize a Catch-22 situation with intervention.
In fourth and seventh grades, I did try to confide in adults at school. I believe one of those adults acted in good faith and the other didn’t. Both escalated the situations by repeating to my parents what I’d told them. I believed I had disgraced myself, and not just by sharing a little bit of the family dirty laundry. I felt stupid for trusting those people. I thought I was a stupid disgrace.
Some kids are in extremely delicate situations at home, and well-intended policies aren’t necessarily the answer. People with expertise can offer suggestions, but there are no concrete answers.
I spent my early years fantasizing about being raised by someone else, and fortunately that provided enough comfort to block out some of the worst the real world had to offer. Fantasy may have been one of the things that made me a writer. I know it was one of the things that kept me alive.
In some of my blog posts, I recall pleasant and even downright hilarious memories of growing up in my parents’ house.
Those things really happened. Once, when my mother was walking across the room, she stepped on a loose board in the floor and it made a rude noise. I was in my teens, and began giggling like a little kid. I couldn’t stop. Then she began laughing because she thought I was way too old to go into hysterics over something like that.
My father taught me socially unacceptable lyrics to pop songs from his youth, which is a nearly fool-proof way to impress a kid. Naturally, I found it uproarious. Hey, to this day I laugh when a loose board in the floor makes an embarrassing noise. I’m fifty-six.
I try to emphasize those memories now, but still can’t quite forget the times I was alone in my bedroom, hearing my parents raging in another part of the house while I held a razor blade to my wrist. I never cut the skin, and I felt like a coward because I didn’t carry it that far.
My parents and I were on better terms after I moved out of the house, but the emotional scars are permanent. My father passed in 2006, my mother in 2010.
These days, my family consists of dear friends who are not relatives. We look out for each other, and have healthy relationships.
Some young people don’t get help, and all they can do is try to hang on. If one of them says that isn’t fair, count on some oaf telling him or her, “Many things in life are unfair.”
Most young people can’t see very far into the future. They don’t grasp the likelihood that a bad situation will improve later. Time moves more slowly for kids than for adults, and if they’re depressed their perception of time becomes even more of a drag. One bad day feels like a bad week (again, I’m recalling something from personal experience). Always consider that before dismissing a child’s or teenager’s pain and saying, “Oh, I felt that way when I was your age. You’ll get over it.”
With the Academy’s new recommendation, we can only hope more kids will get real support. At least a few will just get hell for admitting there’s a problem in the first place.