At the time I wrote last week’s post about early treatment for children, I didn’t realize it was National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. I’d like to continue the focus on children for one more week as, thanks to my friend Nancy over at The “In” Librarian, I’ve been thinking a lot about young OCD sufferers and school.
Imagine this scenario: An eight-year-old distraught girl musters the courage to confide in her teacher that she fears she might seriously harm her classmates. She arranges the items on her desk in a particular manner to keep anything horrible from happening. The teacher, alarmed, follows her school’s protocol, and before you know it, the “authorities” are involved, the girl is traumatized, her parents are upset and confused, and goodness knows what else happens.
Now imagine this same scenario, except the teacher in question has a basic understanding of various brain disorders, including OCD. After asking the girl a few questions, it is obvious to the teacher that this child is terrified of her obsessions, has no desire to hurt her classmates but rather desperately wants to keep them safe, and organizes her desk compulsively to make sure everything is “all right.” The teacher arranges a meeting with the appropriate counselors, as well as the girl’s parents, a referral to a therapist who specializes in treating OCD follows, and official diagnosis and treatment begins.
What a difference a little education can make. I believe all school administrators, teachers, and guidance counselors should receive basic training in mental health issues. Explanations of common disorders, their warning signs and symptoms, as well as the steps that should be taken to help children suffering from various illnesses, should all be included in workshops and discussions for educational professionals.
I also believe students should receive this same education, in an age-appropriate manner, of course. Not only will this information aid in making children more compassionate toward, and less fearful of, those with brain disorders, it will also help them recognize any warning signs they themselves might have or develop. Children can be amazingly accepting. Many of you might be familiar with the heartwarming story of Brad Cohen, an elementary school teacher with Tourette syndrome, who was rejected twenty-four times before being hired to teach the lower elementary grades. He explained his disorder to his class at the beginning of each school year, and that was it (from the children’s perspective anyway).
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of educating children is that providing them with information on brain disorders will likely decrease the stigma associated with all types of mental illnesses. Indeed, we always talk about “reducing the stigma.” But if we start educating children early enough, maybe we could even “erase the stigma.” If our children can grow up never even knowing the stigma of brain disorders, there would be nothing to reduce. And what an accomplishment that would be.