The Shadow of Serious Mental Illness
By Holly Wheeler, Executive Director                                                                         

My husband and I both suffer from anxiety. We figured at least one of our children would have it, too, but hoped they would pass through childhood without incident until they were adults and had more skills to manage it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and my older daughter developed generalized anxiety disorder when she was 8. This was in addition to the ADHD she had been diagnosed with during the same year, then joined by major depressive disorder when she was 10. She is now 18 and will carry all of these diagnoses with her for the rest of her life.

We hoped, prayed, that my younger daughter, now 15, would be spared the same fate. She seemed to be doing fine. Then last year happened, and she wasn’t fine anymore. Like all of our lives, hers changed. One day she had school, swim team, volunteering and piano. The next, she had nothing but the four walls of her room and a computer screen. She began counseling last summer, but meeting virtually made her uncomfortable. As fall became winter, it was clear that the lingering anxiety and depression wasn’t just going to go away when the world opened up again. She likely will battle long-term with these illnesses, perhaps chronically as her sister does.

Having been through this once, I thought I would be more prepared to deal with it again. But I’m learning that seeing your child suffer—and feeling helpless to make things better—is something that’s never normalized. Mental illness is insidious that way. There are medications to treat it (thankfully), but it’s often hard to find the right one. She’s been through three since December, and we’re still searching. And, as each day passes, she lays in bed, unable to face the world. She has so much life to enjoy but just can’t see it. It makes me want to curl up in bed, too. But I have to be strong for her, because if her own mother can’t shoulder the burden when she can’t, who else will?

May is Mental Health Awareness month. Luckily, society is becoming more accepting of mental illness as real and the stigma is lessening, little by little. As someone who’s “been there,” personally and as a parent, I work toward underscoring how mental illness can gravely impact a person’s life yet how common it is. Many suffer silently, afraid of what others will think of them, or, perhaps, a diagnosis is elusive, and they never get the treatment they so desperately need.

This month think of people like my daughters, or perhaps your own children, and the families so desperate to see them healthy. It is my hope that, in time, this support will stop the stigma and research will continue to offer new therapies and medication to improve their lives and make them whole again. 

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