‘The darkness monster’: coping with childhood mental illness – opinion

Science and Health

These were the words of the loving parents of a bright seven-year-old boy who is my patient. Their story, which they shared with me, appears in my book Who is Afraid of the Darkness Monster?

Eleven parents, four teenagers and I disclosed the “behind the scenes” of coping with childhood mental illness for years.

It is an ordeal of much loneliness and despair until one finds a mental health team and child psychiatrist who are committed to the success of the treatment, through a process that can be a long, common struggle.

Taking the first step in your child’s mental health journey

Fear and loneliness. These are the feelings many parents have to cope with at home when their own child hates them. It may take months or even years until these parents overcome their fears and prejudice and seek a child psychiatrist who can help. For three decades, I have been helping parents and children.

However, the first step is trust. They have to trust the child’s psychiatrist the same way they trust their child’s pediatrician. When a child has a fever or a cough, the parents will obviously take the youngster to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment, but when a child has frequent outbursts of rage, or is frequently upset, afraid or doesn’t want to go to school, the parents usually abstain from asking for the help of a psychiatrist.

In my opinion, most people who are faced with mentally ill young children find it hard to accept the situation and prefer to deny its existence. They don’t speak about it and they don’t try to consult a child psychiatrist because they are convinced that he or she might uncover the most difficult and unwanted truth that most parents are not ready to hear or to accept.

The truth is that a correct diagnosis is only the beginning of treatment. It may take months or even years until the proper treatment brings a change for the better in the child’s state of mind, and even healing. During this time we offer help to the child and the child’s family in the form of understanding and support in their emotional struggle.

Fighting the stigma and trying to demystify the process of mental illness and treatment concerning all involved – young patients, parents and child psychiatrists – is my mission nowadays.

The writer is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.