I am one of those people who purposefully doesn’t watch the news, follow politics or read the newspaper.  I used to, avidly. It gave me something to think about, worry about, obsess over and be angry at.  The injustice is everywhere, as is crime, deception, and panic.  I have consciously chosen to take no part in it because I find that in no way, does mainstream media enhance my life.

I had been feeling this way prior to obsessively watching the news after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  But once I heard what happened, I could not stop watching, thinking or trying to wrap my mind around it. I wanted answers, so I looked to the news to give them to me.  I believed everything they said, absorbed it all, took in the “facts” to process it and then found myself infuriated when half of what I was told was a “fact” was not even close.  Twenty four hours of someone else’s strong influence on me was powerful.  It shaped my views and opinions and reiterated to me just how powerful the influence of the media really is.  I haven’t watched the news since…right up until the other day.

Restless on the treadmill, I turned on MSNBC and started watching a heated debate on gun control.  Still gun control? Still debating? This hot topic started right after the tragedy as did the changes in our school safety procedures and the widespread panic that accompanies it.  Still, no one is talking about the REAL issue, the underlying issue, the actual cause—a misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of mental illness and emotional disorders.  It is not normal to hurt people, to want to hurt people, to allow yourself to perform harmful acts.  Before the guns, knives, fire, and fists are used, something is out of balance, something that needs to be addressed- desperately.

It bothers me immensely because I see it every day in children, I hear about it, I lived with it, I know the detrimental impact of mismanaged mental illness and emotional disorders. I also know the fear of it, the misunderstanding of its causes and treatments and the intense judgment that writes people off as hopeless because their brain connections aren’t working properly.

You can’t see the lesions, you can’t see the scars, you can’t see the pain, but it is there and it is deep. Clinical Depression, Bi Polar Disorder and Anxiety Disorders run rampant amongst our populations and they are kept under the radar often to protect the judgment from those around them.  Without professional help and intervention, these illnesses and disorders can drastically affect a person’s life in horrible, negative ways, causing them to feel worthless, angry and living in a constant state of fear and distress in varying degrees.  Each person is different and how their illness or disorder manifests itself is different, but the discomfort and angst that accompanies it is the same.

Addictions, Eating Disorders, and Self Injurious Behaviors are also way more common than we would like to acknowledge and neglect of their symptoms can have extreme short term and long term impacts, both physically and emotionally.

So what can we do to help as parents?

Get the Facts–Know and understand the basics of mental illness and emotional disorders.  You don’t need to know how to diagnose a problem (although many try to do so with the limited knowledge they have) but having an understanding can help alleviate any concern of what you think you know and may be afraid of and offer you facts that are real.

Teach–Teach your children what they need to know as developmentally appropriate.  Young children may only need to know that while some people’s brains are good at learning math problems more than others, some people are better at managing their emotions more than others.  Teaching them if a peer cries more often doesn’t mean they are a “cry baby” but rather it helps that child release their sadness and frustration, the same way it does for them. And it may just be that the child who cries more or even yells more may feel those frustrations more easily than the child sitting next to them and they are learning what to do with those feelings.

Older children will benefit from the same lessons, but also will require understanding the facts and a reiteration that a chemical imbalance in the brain, is just that, an imbalance.  With proper treatment and intervention, balance has a great chance of being recovered.

Do Your Part–Stressing the importance of acceptance and openness to their peers differences can not be over emphasized. If they don’t like the way someone is acting or responding, help them identify what it is about their behavior that makes them uncomfortable.  Teach them that the best way to combat behavior you don’t like, is to model behavior that works better.  It will be helpful for them to recognize how much power they have to teach positive behaviors and control their situation rather than judge it and be bothered by it. And they may be teaching their peer a very positive lesson they won’t get elsewhere.

Connect–Know and help your children understand that we are all in this together.  Whatever effort you make to help another, helps you and everyone around you.  It’s just the truth.

Learning the facts and teaching our children how to respond to other children who struggle is one of the very best ways we can help children living with mental illness and emotional disorders. Every human being wants to feel accepted for who they are and when children feel accepted and cared for by those around them, they feel safe, loved and content.  Children who feel safe, loved and content, are far less likely to grow into angry, hurt and aggressive adults.

Just because the media and the politicians have yet to see the power of fixing the real problem, doesn’t mean we can’t influence it in our own ways.  It’s time to see the truth and it’s time to act.  And what better way to protect our children than to teach them how to be kind, loving and accepting human beings?  Oh right…argue over gun control. How could I forget?