Growing up, I always dreaded school. I was a straight A student, quiet in class and very well behaved (teachers LOVED me). I had close friends and got along with absolutely everyone. With all that being said, I will never forget that pure feeling of panic and anxiety that would set in when I would wake up on a school day, and it would just worsen as I got into the car heading to school. Once I was at school, the anxiety would lessen, but oh goodness was it bad. I always had stomach aches from the stress I felt about going; in fact, it makes my stomach hurt now just reliving these moments in my mind! I cried every first day of school, from preschool until 5th grade (in 6th grade I had to be stronger because the 8th graders could see me and I had to build up my street-cred).
Thinking back now, it couldn’t have been easy for my parents. How are you supposed to know if your child is legitimately sick, just faking illness to skip out on some classwork, or is actually so stressed about going to school that those feelings are causing a stomach ache? Also, how would they have known I was stressed about school if I never told them? They did what they thought made sense, they let me stay home every now and then when I complained of stomach pain and seemed to be unable to shake it. They even made sure to help in my classes sometimes, and were very involved with all of my teachers.
Everything got so much worse in 3rd and 4th grade. I refused to get out of the car when being dropped off, crying and screaming of course. The principal would have to come out and walk with me to class. I will never forget the confused faces of my peers as I continued to cry lightly in my seat, trying to calm myself down. I remember this is around the time when my severe nightmares began; I would try to stay awake until sunrise, because once the sun was up I felt safe enough to sleep.
That year my parents had me start, what I assume to be, school therapy. I just recall these group meetings with a few other kids and we would be asked to share how we felt; it was weird. I didn’t know these other kids, they didn’t know me, so of course we all acted like we were fine and didn’t know why we were there. I didn’t really understand why I was so fearful, or even what I was feeling exactly, so I didn’t know what I was supposed to say or do in this group therapy. I do remember being very worried my parents would die if I were away from them, so I am sure that played a huge part. However, it was so long ago that I cannot fully recall everything going through my head that was causing this anxiety.
My reason for sharing this is to show you how something like going to school, which should be so simple, easy and fun, can be a nightmare to some. So I’d like to share a few signs that your child may be suffering from a mental illness:
- Your child is having more difficulty at school.
- Your child is hitting or bullying other children.
- Your child is attempting to injure himself (or talking about it).
- Your child is avoiding friends and family.
- Your child is experiencing frequent mood swings.
- Your child is experiencing intense emotions such as anger outbursts or extreme fear.
- Your child is lacking energy or motivation.
- Your child is having difficulty concentrating.
- Your child is having difficulty sleeping, or is having a lot of nightmares.
- Your child has a lot of physical complaints.
- Your child is neglecting his or her appearance.
- Your child is obsessed with his or her weight, shape, or appearance.
- Your child is eating significantly more or less than usual.
Mental illness is real and affects children as well as adults, but the good news is that is is also treatable. What can you, as a parent, do? Talk to your kids. They may not be able to explain why they feel certain things, but listen to cues hidden in their stories or explanations. They also may not know that it is okay to talk about sad or dark thoughts. Help them feel safe opening up to you, and if you notice similarities with the signs mentioned above, it’s never a bad idea to seek outside help. Therapists are trained to get to the root cause of feelings, even when the individual has no idea. So don’t feel ashamed to seek the help of a therapist; they can do so much good and give you a better idea of what your child may need.
You are your child's biggest fan; we know you want them to succeed, more than anything. So don’t forget, mental health is just as important as physical health; let’s empower the next generation to reach out for help when they need it most.
Marketing Coordinator at the Psychiatric Wellness Center
Volunteer Secretary with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Mental Health Advocate
Gianna De Keles, MS
The 13 signs your child may be suffering -Copyright @2016, 2019 by Susan Newman (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/singletons/201609/13-signs-potential-mental-illness-in-child
Be sure your child has all of the resources necessary to help them succeed:
Give Psychiatric Wellness Center (Bakersfield, CA) a call today for a therapy appointment. Sometimes our kids are embarrassed to tell us certain things, that’s where we can help. (661) 431-1555 #3 (New Patient)
Crisis Text Line (a global nonprofit organization providing free, anonymous crisis intervention via SMS message) - Text “Listen” to 741741
Teen Crisis Line - 1-800-852-8336
CA Youth Crisis Hotline - 1-800-834-5200