the cost of caring for children with mental health issues

first a note. It came to my attention that when my website change over to a new host, my blog no longer got sent out to subscribers. I think I have that situation fixed. So, if you are a long time subscriber and get this post, and it’s the first one you’ve gotten in a while, please please go back and read all of the stuff that I’ve been writing for the last 6 months. I’ve been doing it for you! Also, if you wouldn’t mind shooting me an email and letting me know that you’re getting it now, that would be a huge load off my mind.

now, on to the good stuff. Or maybe it’s not so good. I’ve written on this topic before. But I think it’s worth reiterating. It certainly a thing that is front and center in my life. I’d like to be as honest as I can be without spotlighting my kids too much. I will just say that my youngest continues to struggle with a variety of mental health issues the take a severe toll on both him and the rest of the family. And my oldest began an intensive outpatient program for his own mental health concerns this week.

as part of the intensive outpatient program, my wife and I are required to participate in three hour and a half long parent groups or DBT groups weekly. I had my first parent support group yesterday. The staff member who is leading it made a very interesting point when the topic of family medical leave was brought up. Without any judgment, he referenced the type of psychiatric issue that my son is dealing with as having a higher mortality rate than adolescent cancer. But he asked us how many parents would take a leave if our kids said cancer.

it really spotlighted how we view mental health versus physical health in our society. We view a kid with a physical disability and have so much empathy for them and their parents. But people can’t see our child’s mental illness. They can’t see what goes on behind the scenes. And even those who are close enough to us to know what’s going on have a hard time conceptualizing the depth of the dysfunction that is rot on our families by childhood mental illness.

I don’t want to speak for anyone else. But I can speak for myself, when I say that I’m down to working about half-time. I spent about 3 hours today filling out paperwork, HIPAA permissions, sending emails to doctors and therapists, and doing other parent of a mentally ill child related things. And that’s not an atypical day. I feel isolated most of the time. I have very little social life. My mental health is greatly affected by our family life. I’ve gained a lot of weight. There just aren’t enough antidepressants in the world to take away the daily pain and trauma.

but all of this happens behind closed doors. There’s the occasional tantrum in public. Which is mortifying but I’ve learned to live with it. I don’t really give a s*** what anyone else thinks about me and my ability to parent. I bet they’d be doing worse if they had to walk a mile in my shoes. That doesn’t make it any less horrible when it happens. But most of it happens in our house where we secret ourselves away from the world because we can’t function as a family in normal society. Not that we function behind closed doors. It’s just a place to hide.

I’m not sharing this to create a woe is me vibe. Nor am I using it as free therapy. I get plenty of therapy. Maybe too much. I’m simply trying to shatter the barriers that hold so steady in our society. There are those of us who are hurting raising these kids who are hurting and we’re doing it in silence. But I think there are a lot of us. And I’d be willing to bet a lot of you feel isolated. I’d be willing to bet a lot of you feel shame. I’d be willing to bet a lot of you feel depressed, lonely, hopeless. I don’t think knowing that someone else out there feels s***** too is going to make you feel good. But it certainly is better to feel like you’re not the only one. And the more of us connect together and the more of us who speak out the less stigma there is and the more community we can have. So be strong and speak out and connect with each other where you can.

I hope this came out right. It was certainly from the heart. And that’s really all I can do right now. Happy belated Thanksgiving.