#MentalHealthMonday | Childhood Mental Health Issues, Then & Now

#Mental Health Monday is a (sometimes) weekly discussion series I discovered through Wendy @ what the log had to say. To see more of my posts on this topic, check here.

The topic of childhood mental health crosses my mind quite a lot. Up until pretty recently, I’d never considered myself a depressed kid. Yet, in considering my childhood as an adult, there were definitely signs that, at the time, neither myself nor my family really recognized.

I grew up in the 1990s, before mental health awareness was much of a thing.

By the time I reached fifth grade, I really struggled to bond with peers. I felt constantly excluded in tiny ways that couldn’t really be pin-pointed. I dreaded going to school so much that I vividly remember breaking down in tears one morning, much to my mother’s confusion.

I got special permission to go see the elementary school counselor once a week, but I don’t really remember us talking much about my issues. At no point was I told, “hey, you’re depressed, and that’s okay, it just means that sometimes you take things a little harder than other kids.”

Because I didn’t have a firm self-concept at that age, I became obsessed with making other kids like me in middle school. Then, in high school, I became really bitter about the fact that other kids didn’t understand or appreciate who I was. I felt invisible, which just contributed to my depression further. It was in high school that I finally got a label for my problem: depression.

How have things changed for kids and mental health?

While I don’t have children, I do have an eight-year-old niece, E. Because E’s parents divorced when she was five and she now splits her time between Mom’s and Dad’s, she understandably has some emotional stuff to work through that she probably can’t even fully process right now.

I recently found out, however, that E has been seeing the school counselor and that her mom has been informed that E has anxiety. I’m reasonably sure that E does exhibit some anxiety symptoms; I’m also reasonably sure that this counselor probably hasn’t done an official diagnosis. E is eight years old and has gone through some things that would surely qualify as trauma. I also know that depression and anxiety run in E’s family—because both my brother and myself have struggled with depression pretty much our whole lives.

What concerns me, when it comes to my niece, but more broadly with kids across America, is that we’re becoming a little too quick to diagnose young mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The major benefit of a diagnosis is that a doctor can prescribe medications—the same drugs that aren’t usually prescribed to people under 18. My question is: what’s the point of labeling children who haven’t even hit puberty yet? Why subject my bright, creative niece to a stigma that doesn’t help her deal with her problems?

Labels aren’t the answer, but more can be done to help kids with potential mental health issues.

After all, I survived adolescent depression, but not every kid does. 13 Reasons Why might be controversial for many reasons, but the one thing it did is remind the public that teen angst can mask mental health struggles. Instead of writing off these kids as angsty, or labeling them with an illness or even just “Trouble,” what if adults took it upon themselves to give kids better tools to manage the stress of being an adolescent? What if—hang with me now—adults actually took kids and teenagers and their problems seriously in a way that prioritizes actually helping them manage better?

What I’m getting at is this: YA and Middle Grade books have a responsibility to their readers. These books have a duty to reflect real experiences, whether it’s just the struggle of being socially awkward and not fitting in with classmates, or to deal with minor or major trauma that growing up can cause. Beyond that, though, these books have a responsibility to show kids how to manage these issues.

Writers, myself included, have a responsibility to our readers. Teachers, my future self included, have an opportunity to provide more than just a curriculum, but actual tools for life.

If we don’t take childhood mental health seriously while prioritizing helping kids succeed, who will?

linegraphic1

I realize this has been a long and rambling post that probably could’ve been more than one post, but I’d love to know your thoughts.

If you struggle with your mental health, how do you feel about diagnosis? If you were diagnosed, how old were you? Did you struggle with similar issues growing up? How do you feel about labeling kids early vs. late?

What are your favorite YA or MG books that talk about mental health?

I’d love for you to join the conversation, and if you think mental health is important, please share this post. As always, thanks for reading!

Author: christine @ lady gets lit

writer // barista // education grad student // depression warrior // nasty woman who reads

9 thoughts on “#MentalHealthMonday | Childhood Mental Health Issues, Then & Now”

  1. I honestly wished that you rambled a bit more! You ask some controversial, yet important questions that people turn a blind eye to. Although I am pro normalizing MH, I see the downfall of the movement from fake allies joining in just to make a profit.

    Sometimes, knowing what you are experiencing is due to an illness lessens the burden of ” Why am I acting like that?” I want to write a post about MH in kids, teens, and adults, but I keep on postponing it.

    Thank you so much for sharing this important post, Christine! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words💕

      I definitely agree that acknowledging a mental illness can be really beneficial. Honestly, I wish I’d recognized my depression earlier instead of just berating myself for being “too sensitive.” I just think that when it comes to kids, our words matter and so does how we approach the situation. Kids can learn coping mechanisms without getting a diagnosis that might just make them feel like there’s something wrong with them.

      I would love to see more of your thoughts on this! It’s a difficult topic to write about, but it’s so important! I think you should write your post! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally see where you are coming from, and I kind of understand and agree with what you are saying. It really gets complicated when it comes to kids,and there is no specific right way when it comes to that.

        I really want to write it too, but not now. Maybe next month….

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Really interesting post Christine! There’s a lot to say…. I DEFINITELY had anxiety when I was a kid (honestly I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t anxious) and very clearly developed depression when I was around 16. I really wish that I had been diagnosed much earlier, because I feel like that would have made the adults around me take me seriously, and it would have stopped me beating myself up about being ‘different’. While I did go to a therapist when I was 18, it wasn’t because I was diagnosed with anything, but because I was having some weird phobias and my parents wanted to get me ‘fixed’ before I went to university. :/ I got diagnosed with depression/anxiety at 18, and with BPD at 22.

    As for the medication side of it – obviously I’m not a doctor/psychiatrist, so I don’t know how meds may affect kids. I think I would have liked to try medication when I was young. My anxiety was really debilitating at times, and there aren’t really any good therapists in Bermuda. I feel like that would have been my only option. That’s probably not a good thing, but it’s reality, you know?

    Lots of food for thought here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You raise some interesting points, Wendy! I definitely think depression and anxiety are easily over-diagnosed in today’s world, the adults are responsible for recognizing when a kid is truly suffering and needs more support. There are kids out there who are debilitated by their mental health issues and would benefit from a diagnosis to be able to move forward. I don’t think there’s any one right answer for every single kid. Do I think I would’ve benefited from being diagnosed at, say, age 10 instead of 17? Possibly. It would’ve helped to know that what was happening wasn’t entirely my fault. But that could’ve just as easily come from having a therapist, which I didn’t truly have until I was 17. I also think that if we as a society are going to diagnose a lot of kids with depression and anxiety, we need to be giving them coping mechanisms, teaching them how to effectively manage their problems, etc.

      Obviously this topic is waaaaay bigger than a single post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, as always.

      Like

  3. I love your idea that we need to help kids cope. They need ways to deal with stress, anxiety and depression… even if these are not so bad as to need medication. The world is not getting any less stressful and even for adults who cope better than others they still have these same stresses to deal with. It’s good to support kids young so they can handle the world as an adult.

    I wish I’d been diagnosed with anxiety a lot younger. I only realized lately when I had some health troubles caused by long term anxiety. I do feel it goes hand in hand with depression. A coping mechanism I learned as an adult is not to dwell on the negative. And jump right in and not agonize before I act. These two things actually help me a lot with both anxiety and depression (which I was diagnosed with young).

    This is a really thoughtful post and I think there is no easy answers about the responsibility authors have. I read a book recently that some readers say is about autism, a condition I have extensive experience with. I totally disagree about this book. But are kids reading it getting help from it?! Does it matter that the mental health/disability is right? And who’s to judge? Just a few thoughts I had!! Love this, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts to this discussion. It’s always interesting to get other perspectives on getting diagnosed as kids. The more I think about it, the more I wish someone had helped me process my depression when I was younger. There are so many coping skills that I still haven’t mastered, and the older I get the harder it feels to change.

      It’s hard when it comes to analyzing rep because we all have different experiences. There are books that have helped me with aspects of my identity that others have called out for being harmful, and there are books I think are problematic that other people rave about. Reading is subjective at a certain point, so all we can do is give our thoughts and point to other people’s thoughts as well. Which is something I think this community does so well.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s