My son Charlie suffers from what can be a life threatening chronic illness. As any mother would, I have dedicated my life to keeping my son alive, improving his condition and finding help for him anyway I can. Unlike most mothers whose children have a life threatening illness – I do so in a vacuum.
In all the years of treatments, hospitalizations and crises we have been through, not one soul has sent a get-well card. There have been no prayer circles, no donation jars at the check out stand at the local market. Nobody has ever brought us a casserole. In fact, when we reached out to our church for help, we were shunned. We no longer attend church.
Just this past May, Charlie was in treatment for his illness at a clinic two hours away from home. He and I lived in a hotel room, ate our meals out and went home on weekends. Hotel rooms and travel expenses are not covered by insurance, and employers don’t like it when you can’t go to work for weeks at a time, as a result I lost my job,
We live in a very generous community and a giving country, why are Charlie and I alone in the fight to get him help?
It isn’t because Charlie has some rare disease. In fact, more than 17 million children in this country suffer with a similar illness and it is the leading cause of illness related death for teen-agers.*
It is because Charlie has a mental illness. And mental illness is a silent disease. Nobody asks, nobody tells. Talking about your child’s mental illness is a sure way to abruptly end a conversation. That same awkwardness can lead to social and even familial isolation. Employers, who may have endless patience for a child in the hospital, have little if that hospital is a psychiatric one. Kind souls who start gofundme accounts for a friend in need, are strikingly absent from the world of mental illness.
So while millions and millions of parents have a child with a mental illness, we are not rallied around, but railed against. Maybe not in overt ways, but it ways that leave us silently, privately suffering. (join our new parental support forum)
It is Suicide Prevention Month. I thought I should speak up. I am not a whiner, I am not asking for help. I just thought you should know. For the record, Charlie isn’t suicidal. And I plan on keeping it that way.
*Ninety percent of teens that kill themselves have a diagnosable mental illness.- Child Mind Institute
**Suicide is the third leading cause of death for US adolescents ages 15 – 24, behind accidents and homicides. Center for Disease Control
Editor’s note: Most children with mental illnesses do not have suicide ideation.