It is so much easier to empathize with pain suffering that we can see. Our heart goes out to a child missing a limb or bald as a result of chemotherapy. However, to feel the pain of a child who has an emotional disorder is less obvious and consequently doesn’t receive our empathy.
Part of the problem is that many kids do whatever they can to keep their emotional problems and pain a secret. For others, the symptoms aren't recognized or are misunderstood. But aside from being unable to identify a child’s illness, many of us unwittingly continue to remain in the dark due to certain myths that are taken as fact.
The time has come to crack open those mental health myths so we can help the children.
MYTH #1 The Origin of Emotional Disorders is Poor Parenting
While it goes without saying that a child’s relationships with his/her parents and the home, in general, can exacerbate an emotional disorder, save for outright abuse, it is unlikely that that poor parenting is the cause of a psychological disorder. Diseases such as autism, depression and even anxiety often have a biological source. However while not the cause, parents are crucial in their child’s recovery.
MYTH #2 Personal Weakness is the Culprit Behind Emotional Problems
It is often difficult for the untrained eye to separate the symptoms of an emotional disorder from a child’s character and personality. Anxiety, depression and even impulsive behavior seem to define who the child is.
But emotional problems are no more indigenous to a personality type than leukemia or asthma. Just because a child is suffering doesn’t mean that he/she is weak. What’s more, children often lack the tools to overcome their emotional problems, so we often confuse that suffering with weakness.
Let’s not confuse mental strength with mental health. In the same way that a child who has diabetes could be physically strong, so too a child who is depressed could be mentally strong. Even children can choose to build mental strength despite suffering from a mental health problem.
MYTH #3 Children With Emotional Disorders are Damaged Goods for Life
Psychological disorders are not life sentences. Just because a child is suffering emotionally doesn’t condemn him/her to a life of dissatisfaction and sadness. Children whose struggles are acknowledged and treated have an excellent chance to become healthy adults. While some problems such as schizophrenia appear to be incurable, most emotional problems are treatable.
MYTH #4 Left Alone, Children Will Generally Outgrow Their Emotional Problems
On the contrary, left alone, it is more likely that children will suffer more debilitating conditions than outgrow their mental health problems. Generally speaking, emotional problems untreated in children mushroom into more complex and challenging problems in adulthood.
Interventions are often more effective when they are begun in childhood due to the responsiveness of a child’s brain.
MYTH #5 If a Kid Exerts Enough Willpower the Emotional Problem Will Subside
A psychological disorder is far more than a temporary mood swing or mild anxiety. Leaving the child alone, often the dysfunction and severe distress of an emotional disorder will impact practically every area of a child’s life.
Children lack the experience, knowledge, and skill to manage such daunting challenges and ADHD, anxiety or depression. It is only when children are assisted through treatment that they can hope to restore normalcy to their lives.
MYTH #6 Therapy and Medication are a Waste of Time
Recent research has shown that there is a window of opportunity, in a child’s first few years, where interventions such as therapy and medication are generally more effective. Excellent treatment and carefully dispensed medication can set a child on the path to a productive and happy life that would be nearly impossible otherwise.
It is critical to completely debunk these common myths about children’s emotional disorders if we hope to help more kids get the help they need and deserve.