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Misunderstanding What You Can’t See

Contributed by Matthew Robertson, Transition Coordinator

Many people say, “I’d have to see it to believe it.” There are people with disabilities that aren’t perceivable. How can one understand or know something they can’t see? It starts with awareness.

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a year and 1 in 5 of children ages 13 – 18 years experiences a severe mental disorder. These statistics are alarming. We all go to school or work with or have a family member that has mental illness.

People with mental illnesses may not want to share their disability and that’s okay. Others may not know they have a disorder. Persons with a traumatic brain injury may not know they can’t remember the incident. Someone that’s always energetic and makes impulsive decisions may not realize they have ADHD.

The symptoms of mental illnesses need to be taught and understood. In a school of 1,000 kids, statistically, 200 experience a severe mental disorder; you may never realize that many are affected. Observing them socialize you may never know either. I believe the symptoms of mental disorders may be are seen as personality traits and may be placed in a social groups accordingly.

There are over-achievers, top of their class; motivated 110%, neat, and use a certain color ink. They have clean lockers and specifically arranged. They sound like perfect students and have good traits. They have a routine; but for some, if their routine is altered, they become anxious because they are obsessive-compulsive.

Some kids draw on their work, tapping pencils or feet, during class. They are viewed as kids that annoy everyone and don’t care. Some kids don’t care but some may not be able to focus because they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. NAMI estimates 9% of children 3-17 have ADHD. When their symptoms are at their worst, they are treated as if they could stop, and then punished. Schools need more awareness.

Every school has kids with no energy, interest, or concentration, don’t do well in school, socially awkward, or have a low self-esteem. These kids are misunderstood and called burn-outs. They may have depression. If not treated properly, some use drugs, alcohol, or do self-harm. They are looked down upon for being “druggies” or “cutters” and viewed as selfish if they commit suicide. People should see the substance abuse as a cry for help and not as something people do because they don’t fit in. People with depression need support.

Mental illnesses can be hard to understand and easily overlooked. If symptoms are recognized, awareness may help with their own disorder or someone else. For more information, visit the NAMI website here.

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If you are interested in local mental health resources, contact PACE for more information. We may also be able to work with you to develop an Independent Living Plan in addition to any mental health resources you may receive.

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