In the small midwestern town where I grew up during the 1960s, the words cancer, pregnant, divorce, sex, and mental illness were always spoken in whispers, accompanied by dark looks, furtive glances, and the covering of children’s ears.
Yes, I am that old.
So much has changed since those days–some for the good and some for the bad. But this post isn’t about what has changed. It’s about what hasn’t changed. And what hasn’t changed is this. Far too many of us continue to whisper the words mental illness.
Some days I wish mental illness was a whisper in our family.
But it isn’t. In our family, mental illness is a shout. A particularly nasty mental disease called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a reality of life for so many people I love.
For my son, who endured major surgery at birth without pain medication, only paralytic drugs.
For my son-in-law who witnessed his younger brother’s death, an event that also killed his parents’ marriage.
For my mother whose dementia, we suspect, was induced by years of trauma-related anxiety.
They are three reasons I can’t whisper about mental illness and PTSD anymore.
They are reasons why I am shouting PTSD awareness from the mountaintops this June, which is PTSD Awareness Month. I have observed my loved ones’ valiant efforts to cope with this disease. I have cheered them on as they persevere day after day to remain whole and integrated. I pray for their healing every single day. I cry when they succumb to despair, and I cheer when they pick themselves up and try again.
I am shouting for today’s traumatized children, too.
Many of today’s children are being traumatized daily. Children, who like my son, endure early and invasive medical procedures. Children, like my son-in-law, who see things no child should ever see. Children whose lives are dotted with abuse, neglect, natural disasters, accidents, war, poverty, divorce, bullying, the death of a loved one. Children traumatized by events adults don’t consider traumatic, like adoption or moving.
I am shouting because early treatment of their trauma can prevent PTSD.
Did you hear that? Childhood trauma happens, but PTSD can be prevented. Research breakthroughs and new therapies are being announced at lightning speed, changing the landscape of treatment so quickly that mental health care professionals can barely keep abreast of them. As well as preventative strategies parents can employ in conjunction with professional treatment to improve our children’s mental health. A few worthy of note include:
- OperationSAFE’s five lessons to improve resilience in the face of major disasters.
- First aid for trauma prevention fleshed out in Trauma-Proofing Your Kids by Dr. Peter Levine and Maggie Kline.
- Outpatient treatment for children as young as ageg 3 at Intensive Trauma Therapy, Inc. (ITT) in Morgantown, West Virginia.
- Child life specialists, employed by almost all university and children’s hospitals, to prepare children for medical interventions.
- Does My Child Have PTSD? What to Do When Your Child Is Hurting from the Inside Out, by Jolene Philo, to be released by Familius in October, 2015 and available for pre-order on Amazon now.
I am shouting because our God is the God of all healing.
Three people I love dearly will likely fight this brain disease, PTSD, throughout their lives. The love of Christ compels me to stand beside them as His hands and heart so they can see Him clearly and find strength and hope to trust Him with their pain and struggle every day. To look forward to the day, at long last and in the blink of an eye when as He promises in Revelation 21: 4…
…and I will stand with them and the traumatized children of this world,
all of us wholly healed,
in the presence of our holy, healing God.