We talk openly about asthma & allergies. Giving same transparency to mental health issues will lift the crippling silence destroying children’s self esteem, says award-winning columnist, author, OCD & anxiety survivor.
Last week, Harry Potter series star Devon Murray bravely opened up about his decade-long struggle with depression. But why did it take him so long?
Maggie Lamond Simone, author of Body Punishment -- who has struggled her entire life with OCD, anxiety and depression -- knows all too well that shame, the fear of stigma and a general lack of awareness about the signs and symptoms of mental illness prevent children from revealing their conditions, even to the adults they love.
NPR is currently doing a series on what it calls this silent epidemic.
The silence, Maggie says, can cause utter devastation by perpetuating a culture of secrecy, causing shame to deepen, destroying kids’ self-esteem and alienating them. It can also prevent kids from having conversations that will lead to the treatment and support they need.
The only way forward toward change, Maggie says, is to lift the taboo around calling mental illnesses by their name. Here’s how:
Identify the illness.
Mental illnesses come in all shapes and sizes, from depression and anxiety to OCD, eating disorders and addiction. Be intentional about identifying the specific condition your child is suffering from. This will help make the condition and its manifestations seem less mysterious and confusing, lifting a layer of stigma.
Get in the habit of calling each illness by its name.
When consistently referred to by its proper name, a mental health condition becomes merely an aspect of the child suffering from it rather than a defining characteristic -- as with asthma or allergies. After all, just as nobody chooses to have asthma or is identified by it, nobody chooses to have -- or should be identified by -- OCD.
Be intentional in talking openly about mental illness -- including your own.
Be intentional in speaking about conditions openly. Again, think of how you’d speak of asthma. A condition itself won’t go away, but with a name and no shame it becomes just another aspect of the child who has it. It can be managed. Parents struggling with mental illness should speak openly about this with their children, as well.
Finally, remember: speaking up will lead to a domino effect that will go a long way toward alleviating suffering and devastation.
About Maggie Lamond Simone
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning columnist and author. With two titles already to her name, her third book, Body Punishment: OCD, Addiction and Finding the Courage to Heal (Central Recovery Press) was released in April 2015. It traces Simone’s journey struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression. Her writing has been featured in multiple publications and collections, including Cosmopolitan Magazine, The Zen of Midlife Mothering (2013), Not Your Mother’s Book on Do-It-Yourselfers (2013), P.S. What I Didn’t Say (2009), and Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Resolution (2008). Simone has been a guest on NPR and is a regular blog columnist for the Huffington Post. An an adjunct professor in the department of communications at SUNY Oswego and Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, she lives in Central New York with her husband and two children.
About Body Punishment
For as long as she can recall, Maggie Lamond Simone has been plagued by self-loathing and urges to harm herself physically while emotionally sabotaging her life. In Body Punishment: OCD, Addiction and Finding the Courage to Heal (Central Recovery Press, April 2015), she reveals it all. The obsessive thoughts that drove her to cut, starve, pick, drink, pluck, purge, and otherwise hurt herself. The profound shame, the utter despair and the confusion over her own inner workings that prevented her from establishing stable, long-term goals and healthy relationships. Through this poignant story of her painful, eye-opening journey she explores the issues of substance abuse, anxiety, and depression that commonly occur with OCD, all in an effort to further the dialogue around mental illness and eliminate the shame and help others find a way forward toward healing.
In an episode of “Glee,” Will asked Emma’s parents for her hand in marriage. Emma struggles with OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder. Fearing germs and contamination, her quirks include washing fruit for a certain amount of time and wearing plastic gloves when handling food. Her parents would not give their blessing to the marriage because, as they put it, “As you know, life is messy. And Emma doesn’t do messy.”
My daughter was particularly annoyed with the parents as we watched the episode because they called Emma’s OCD a disease and treated it as a life-defining problem. “You’d think they would know it’s not a disease,” she said. “Jeesh. I’m a kid and I know that.”
Yes, my daughter knows this.
I’ve had OCD since I was a child. Part of mine is called trichotillomania, or hair pulling. The obsession is thought to stem from a need for perfection, translated to a need for smoothness.
Some people pull out the hair on their heads in patches; others, like me, pluck out eyebrows and eyelashes. One day in second grade the girl next to me said, “Hey, you have a patch of eyelashes missing.” I was mortified – not that I’d plucked, but that I’d gotten caught. I learned to hide it much better as time went on.
I didn’t know there was name for it until I was 38. When my son was a baby, I looked down as he played with his eyelashes and panicked, afraid I’d given him whatever horrible illness I had. And that’s when I looked it up. I sat at my computer and wept; there were support groups and chat rooms and hundreds of thousands of other people who did what I do to myself.
Dermatillomania (skin picking) is closely associated. My ex-dermatologist once said, “How long have you been scratching at your face?” I replied, “Forty years.” He said, “Well, stop it.” I thought, “Really? Is that all it takes, you telling me to stop? Oh, thank you, thank you! I never thought of simply stopping before!” Hence the “ex.”
Not everyone understands OCD. It is an anxiety-based disorder; simply put, people with OCD have uncontrollable intrusive thoughts (obsessions), which are relieved by performing a ritual of some sort (compulsions). There are types, some of which are more well-known than others. Comedian Howie Mandel, for example, like Emma on “Glee,” is very open about his fear of germs.
Other obsessions include a need for order, symmetry and precision, fear of illness or harm coming to oneself or a family member, sounds or words that can’t be tolerated, lucky and unlucky numbers, and religious obsessions. Some people with OCD have a preoccupation with body waste or household items.
The associated compulsions can include checking and rechecking (e.g. door locks, or that the oven’s been turned off), repeating rituals (such as going through a doorway a certain way), counting, cleaning rituals, ordering and arranging objects (e.g. alphabetically or by color), and touching rituals (e.g. having to touch each parking meter, a la the lead character in the series “Monk.”)
Movies occasionally address OCD also. Jack Nicholson’s character in 1997’s “As Good As It Gets” was compelled to lock and unlock his door a certain number of times. He also couldn’t step on cracks, leading to a humorous yet tellingly sad moment where he is faced with a honeycomb-patterned foyer. Many stars and public figures, like Howie Mandel, are open about their OCD, including Justin Timberlake, Leo DiCaprio and David Beckham.
This openness is crucial. The shame associated with OCD – particularly in children and teens, who might feel like they’re “crazy” or that something is fundamentally wrong with them - can be paralyzing, and the effects of that shame, lifelong. It wasn’t talked about when I was a kid, so you can trust me on this one.
My daughter knows all of this because she has OCD also. It was diagnosed at age 9 when she developed a paralyzing fear of something happening to me. It also manifests as a constant need for reassurance (“Do you think he’s mad at me?” “Is the wind going to cause a tornado?”) and an intolerance for certain sounds and textures. It’s managed with a wonderful therapist, and knowledge among the rest of us as to how to handle it. Parenthetically, she’s also super-organized and very dependable.
There are millions of people with varying degrees and manifestations of OCD. People who don’t have it may have a hard time understanding it, but really, it doesn’t need to be understood to be accepted. Understanding can come with time. We just need to remember that people with OCD don’t want to have it and didn’t choose to have it. They can choose to manage it, however, if they can talk about it openly and honestly.
Because after all, it’s not a disease. I mean, jeesh. Even kids know that.