Juan Carlos Fajardo was always the exception. He didn’t follow the rules, he made them. He was often late for school due to refusing to get up, refused to do homework, and had a difficult time taking direction from adults.
Then at age 15, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It turned out his non-conformist behaviors were the result of mental health disorder that had not been previously diagnosed.
As the years progressed, he came face to face with the dark side of things. He would have uncontrollable mood swings and episodes of oppositional defiance. He felt like no one understood him..
His stressful days developed into anxiety and depression. Although he was quite popular with many friends, he often felt a deep loneliness.
In that lonesome darkness, one thing that he had going on for him was his writing talent. He loved poetry as a vehicle for venting and self-expression. That talent is what led to Xpression, the man he is today.
Broadening the mental health discussion
Mental health issues are as prevalent among kids and teenagers as they are in adult populations. The last survey on the subject shows that 1 in 10 children between ages 5 and 15 have mental health disorders.
Kids are curious and may have questions about mental illness. They may want to understand how they feel and why they feel that way. Lack of information or misinformation on mental health can lead to anxiety, stigma and worsened episodes.
Many parents often find it difficult to know what to say. Given that mental health issues can be hard to understand, even for adults, the issues are swept under the rag in various settings. It’s left unto the child to figure it out as they grow.
Talking to children about mental illnesses can help them to cope with the condition. The discussion helps them to understand what to expect and when and how to seek help.
The hard talk
You can help children become aware of their mental health issues by talking about it openly. Just like you would bring up other difficult discussions such as dealing with bullying or dealing with grief and loss, take advantage of these crucial conversations. Help them understand their feelings and what they can do to calm the symptoms when they happen, including taking deep breaths, going to bed early, and talking to family members about it.
As your child grows older and his or her cognitive understanding matures, you can explain the illness in broader details. Let them understand that they are not alone. Let them know that it is manageable like the common cold.
Tips to help with the hard talk
Learn as much as you can about your child’s mental health and challenges. You will likely find the right words when you understand the subject and are comfortable with it. Please consult with your care provider about the details of the condition and how best to explain it to a child.
Make comparisons to common illnesses. You can explain how many people get sick with the flu and how in others, it heals fast while in some people it progresses into pneumonia. Explain how if these people get pneumonia, they must take medication to be well. Tie that to how everyone gets sad, anxious, and worried and why treatment is necessary in some cases.
When talking about mental health concerns with a child, use child-friendly words. Break it down to digestible content and a relatable conversation. Communicate that that there is nothing to be ashamed of for having challenges with their mental health.
Prepare to answer questions after the talk. Bringing up the talk may be followed by a variety of questions from your curious child. Young kids may want to know if they are to blame for the illness, while teenagers may ask if they can fix it. Preparing your talk with the help of a mental health provider can help to address such questions.
Be reassuring. Talks like this can send kids into a worried frenzy. The idea of the discussion is to create awareness and help them take charge of their mental health. Be careful, therefore, not to cause unnecessary worry. Reaffirm your child by telling them you love them and that you will be there with them whenever they need it. Also, hugs are important. Ask your child what he or she needs from you and honor the requests as you are able.
The consequences of never talking about it
With limited information about their mental health challenges, people like Xpression can experience more difficulties. It is imperative to obtain correct information so that families can work on viable solutions and avoid unnecessary pain and strife.
He became popular for his antics to the point that he brought his teachers to tears occasionally. Although at times, he felt very alone, Xpression had very supportive parents and grandparents who worked diligently to find resources and find the care he needed.
The diagnosis came at age 15, after the death of his grandfather. Xpression was lost in his grief and he believed he lost the only person who understood him. Though he was surrounded by people who loved him, Xpression felt alone in his struggle.
The artist described facing trouble sticking to the medication. “I felt emotionless, just a zombie or robot. I wasn’t sad, and I wasn’t happy, I didn’t have emotion. The mood was, not having a mood.”
As a fully grown man with a steady career, Xpression remembers that he struggled with guilt and shame. He says that he always felt like he hurt a lot of people close to him (in his manic episodes) and that as a result, some he alienated himself from family and friends.
As something he was passionate about, poetry helped a lot. The writing talent has led to his bona fide career as a rapper and MC. However, what most changed things for him and helped him live positively with bipolar disorder was his daughter’s birth.
“I was constantly weighed down by negative emotions. I got sucked up into dark things; it felt like a curse. I felt stuck forever. But then my daughter came, and something inside me changed, and my heart felt whole.”Xpression the MC
Dealing with mental health issues in a family needs the participation of family members. Parents can feel empowered by learning about the illness and then can help their children understand their feelings and concerns. If, at this moment, you are wondering whether to bring up the discussion with your child, please do it. By opening the discussion, you are reducing the stigma associated with mental health challenges. By reducing stigma you are inviting healthy conversations about mental wellness and encouraging your child’s self-advocacy and safety.