parent opinion

'I gave my daughter a mental health day off school. A stranger shamed me for it.'

My family is a beautiful and complicated unit consisting of neurodiverse individuals.

My husband and son both have ADHD. Their big personalities and needs take a lot of energy and focus from, not just me, but my two other neurotypical children, too. 

And whilst I wouldn’t have it any other way, I am acutely aware of the mental and emotional strain felt by each of us every so often. 

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Video via Mamamia.

So, every few months when I can see one of my children is struggling, I give them a mental health day where I keep them off school and we spend time together reconnecting without the needs of anyone else getting in the way. 

We take that opportunity to chat, to decompress and to fill my child's emotional cup.

On this latest mental health day it was my neurotypical middle child who needed that break. 

We needed some groceries too and so popped into the local shops. While in line at the checkout, a lady started chatting to us and asked if my daughter was off school due to being unwell. Without thinking, I told her that in fact no, that she was off school for a mental health day. 

As soon as the words left my mouth, the lady’s face dropped, and she responded with, “Are you serious?”

She then told me she worked with children in a school counselling capacity and that I was setting a bad example by letting my daughter stay off school for her mental health; that I was teaching her to give up and 'be weak when faced with hardship'.

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I was gobsmacked. 

Before I could get my head around what was said she had left us with her judgment sticking to me like a bad smell. 

She is absolutely entitled to her opinions and obviously does not know the back-story to our family’s life, but I was unsettled by the idea that she works with children in a mental health capacity and yet was so quick to judge someone she knew nothing about, and stigmatise mental health. 

Just last week I read an article posted on Mamamia about the significant rise in children accessing mental health help and presenting to emergency with urgent mental health issues, much of which has been brought on by the pandemic. 

I am acutely aware that as we live in WA and our schools are currently still open having only been 'closed' for two weeks last year and a few days so far this year, that my children and family have yet to face the severe strain of closed schools and the overwhelming nature of ongoing lockdowns. 

But it got me thinking about those who are in places of influence over our children like this lady we encountered and how a child could so easily be made to suffer in silence in order to show resilience and strength. 

To push their feelings of detachment or worry or their emotional needs away because these things are a distraction and do not warrant our attention or nurturing. 

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The idea that we are to stigmatise mental health to keep our children from being “weak” is so far from the actual science behind positive psychiatry and mental wellbeing. 

As expressed in the article about our nation's children struggling mental health, to tackle this problem we need it to be made a priority from the top right down to our local schools. 

Federal and state leaders need to acknowledge that the outcomes for our children as we navigate our way through this pandemic could be far worse if steps are not taken now to mitigate them. 

Leaving it up to individual states to open up schools is one thing, to turn a blind eye to a child's mental health in such a time of crisis is a huge failure. 

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We have monetary aid for businesses that struggle, could aid not be provided to our children too? This notion is probably too simplistic but if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that anything is possible if only the need is a priority. 

Back to the lady who, to me, represents the archaic notions that still infiltrate some of those in positions of power over our children's future. I wish I could have spoken with her more to understand why she believes if we ignore our mental strain it will make us stronger?

Building resilience is something that we work on every day with my son’s ADHD symptoms, and by default my neurotypical children also learn these important life lessons. But in my eyes, emotional intelligence and well-being are just as vital to raising children who are well-rounded and capable. 

So, I will continue to give priority and a sense of balance to my children's mental health and sincerely hope that in the meantime the powers that be realise our nation's children need them now more than ever to safeguard not just their economic inheritance post this pandemic but equally their mental and emotional wellbeing, too. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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