I have written elsewhere on this site that I suffered an alarming array of blatant psychological problems as a child, so will not repeat myself here. However, despite my youthful self displaying all the signs of incipient mental illness, these signs failed to motivate my parents into sending me for psychiatric assessment, let alone treatment.
Indeed, I was in my twenties before I received any psychological assistance This is a great pity as it is known that the earlier one therapeutically intervenes in order to treat a child for psychological difficulties, the less likely s/he is to experience mental illness as an adult.
Far too frequently childhood mental illness is not identified which means, of course, it is not treated. Due to this lack of intervention, the child’s condition may well deteriorate, especially given the inevitable stresses of navigating adolescence.
A main reason that childhood mental illness frequently goes undiagnosed is that, often, parents are reluctant to draw attention to their child’s condition.
One reason for this is that parents may be afraid that if their child is diagnosed as mentally ill he may be stigmatized in a way that adversely affects his/her current and future life (for example, being treated differently at school, being bullied, being prescribed medication with undesirable side effects, possible harmful effects on future employment prospects).
Secondly, parents may worry that they themselves will be stigmatized and viewed by others as being the main cause of their child’s psychiatric difficulties.
Third, some parents may not want their child to receive a formal diagnosis as they would then feel compelled to pay for their child’s treatment (in countries in which such treatment is not free of charge) which could potentially entail enormous expense.
A fourth, and powerful, reason parents may not wish to acknowledge their child’s mental illness is due to the fact that it could simply be too painful for them to face up to the reality of the situation. This may lead them to enter a psychologically defensive state of denial.
Finally, and sadly, some parents, perhaps focused on other things such as their careers, may not wish to acknowledge a child is mentally ill due to the fact they fear it would obligate them to help the child in ways that do not suit them, such as giving the child more time, attention and affection. Indeed, if the child is externalizing (acting out) his/her psychological problems, the parents may find it more convenient to blame and criticize him/her, rather than respond to the cry for help his/her behaviour signals.
The main remedies to this state of affairs are clear: there needs to be more education of both children and adults about mental illness, thus helping to reduce its stigmatization. Furthermore, the treatment of childhood mental illness needs to be adequately funded by governments.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).