“Why don’t parents care more about their children’s mental health?” she asks me, her wide eyes avoiding mine, peering over her mask as if to find the answer hiding in the corner of the classroom. She tells me that it’s not a good time to talk to either of her parents about her needs, because her mom is handling a lot of stress at work and her dad is going through a significant health challenge. “But the whole family is trying to help him get better by reminding him to take his meds, not eating certain foods and all that…” she trails off, eyes misty as she tries to reconcile her family’s prioritization of physical over mental health.
The reasons families are resistant to therapy vary, but it usually comes down to some variation of stigma. When a child is physically ill, no one looks to blame the family or shame them for seeking treatment. Instead, the community rallies around the family, brings over meals and encourages them with stories of their own recovery. However, when someone is suffering from a mental illness, the stigma conjures up images of people living in padded rooms or cardboard boxes. The community is unsure how to respond, and I understand their fears.
The emotions I felt the first time I took my son to therapy were similar to when my wife first introduced kale into my breakfast smoothie: I was intrigued and trepidatious, knowing it was good for me but concerned about the process. I found out pretty quickly that therapy is hard: my parenting was challenged, issues from my childhood came to the surface, and we even had homework! However, we also experienced the guidance of a skilled therapist who helped us deepen our connection with each other, shifted our paradigms and changed our lives. When things were really tough, our family was “on the couch” weekly, when things got better we paired down to monthly and now we go in when we need a “tune up”. All the while we’ve maintained a strong relationship with our community and my testimony to them has always been the same: “If you need help, seek it. It’s difficult, but so worth it.”
Being authentically transparent is one of hardest things a person can do, but in the right environment, it is also one of the most rewarding. That’s why therapy isn’t for the weak. It’s for those who choose to look in the face of illness and say, “I see you, I’m with you and we will do whatever it takes to help you recover.” My prayer is that authentic transparency would spread across our community, blanketing the stigma of mental illness so completely that after my student is in treatment, someone will bring her a meal and encourage her with stories of their own recovery.
“Where there is no guidance, people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” -Proverbs 11:14
By Zach Diestler, Counselor at Contra Costa Christian High School