While we are dedicated to achieving better outcomes for all special needs kids at snkids.org, I personally believe that society often puts mental health in a different category of need and concern than other special needs. This statement is admittedly biased and is based solely upon my own personal experience with my child with special mental health needs. It is not reflective of the views of snkids.org as a whole.
My viewpoint is based upon the discrete and separate level of empathy that I observed my son being afforded in comparison to that given to his same-aged cousin with a serious physical health issue.
It was a wondrous day when my own mother made a clear statement to me about my son’s mental health struggles not being unlike his cousin’s kidney health issues. It was like a lightbulb went on, and it suddenly became clear. She said to me,
“Physical and mental health issues are really not different, are they? It’s just another part of the body that is struggling.”
I agreed and literally cried at her realization, since my 6 year-old son was currently under a hospital “hold” (a “5150”) [100 miles from my home in the only available children’s mental health bed] due to his severe anxiety (GAD) and oppositional defiance disorders (ODD), and his subsequent impulsive actions.
I offer this story as food for thought. I do not intend to criticize, but merely ask us all to consider whether we are expressing an equal level of concern for children with outwardly disruptive mental health issues, as we are for children who have other disabilities, but are quiet and demure in their affect.
I was prompted to share this story because today I read a letter from the new President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Adrienne Kennedy, MA, in which she outlines her priorities for the organization in the coming year. She recounts her own son’s struggles with mental illness and the failing systems that currently exist. She says that,
“Over the years, every system failed our son. Our family safety net was simply not enough. Our love, energy and commitment—none of it was enough…. We all were caught in a labyrinth of systems so broken that nothing we tried and no path we pursued—even with all the vigor and valor or the resources we put to it—could manage anything but short-lived interventions without any forward traction.”
Ms. Kennedy affirms in her letter that her overarching goal is to “establish and solidify a unified national advocacy movement” so that “people [do] not fall through the cracks.” And among other very important goals, she also wants to work toward the decriminalization of mental illness (noting that “People with mental illness continue to be incarcerated at high rates, one of the most horrific outgrowths of failed mental health policies and practices.”) and to work toward an increase in supportive housing for people with mental illness.
I applaud her for these forward-thinking goals and for her commitment to all of us.
I encourage you to read the letter in its entirety.