One of the hardest parts about being a parent is seeing your child in pain. When your child is sick or hurt, you’ll stop at nothing to help them feel better. But only if you understand that something is wrong and if you understand where to go for help.
Years ago, my older son played high school basketball. One night at a game, he fell and tore his ACL. Everyone in the stands could see what happened to his knee, and there was no question what we would do next. I was determined to find my son the best possible care so he’d recover completely. He wanted that, too. From the first MRI, to his surgery, to the last physical therapy session, we both felt informed, supported, and confident about his recovery. By the time the next basketball season rolled around, only a faint scar remained to show where his pain had been.
Two years later he experienced debilitating pain again, but at first, I didn’t notice. Instead, I thought he was choosing to be surly, defiant, volatile; deliberately acting out and upsetting our household. And, because I feared his behavior was somehow the result of poor parenting, initially, I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t know that his invisible pain was every bit as real and as treatable as his ACL tear. And I didn’t know his behaviors were actually symptoms of what would eventually be diagnosed as bipolar disorder. He didn’t understand either; he felt ashamed, like it was somehow his fault.
No one in our household understood the incredible impact that untreated mental illness would have on our family.
There were outbursts, there were tears, there were promises made and broken. And there was a younger brother quietly witnessing the gradual unraveling of a home. Through it all, there was silence. Fueled by fear lack of information, we struggled in private. Eventually, we would learn our silence had a name: Stigma.
My son’s condition led to addiction, homelessness, and incarceration. He spent nearly three years behind bars.
If only I had known about NAMI Delaware in time to help him. National Alliance on Mental Illness in Delaware provides free education programs and support groups for people affected by mental illness. Would things have turned out differently for us?
I will never know. And I can’t go back and change that. But you can know and you can find help in time.
NAMI’s programs are led by trained facilitators with lived experience. Their programs provide practical information like specific illnesses and treatments, ways to cope, how to communicate effectively, and how to prepare for and manage crises. NAMI also offers school programs so students, staff, and parents can learn the warning signs, understand the impact of stigma, and know what to say and what not to say to someone struggling.
While mental illnesses are invisible, their impact can be just as devastating as a physical illness or injury. One in five people experiences a mental illness but fewer than half will ever seek help. But like many other health conditions, with early intervention, sufficient support, and accurate information, recovery from mental illness is possible. Today, my son is in his mid-twenties and working toward recovery every day, but it shouldn’t have to be so hard.
I wish I had done more sooner. I wish I had known where to turn. I wish I had understood what I understand now. Don’t let silence steal your family. Find support and find hope.
Contact NAMI Delaware: namidelaware.org.