“Is mental health when your tooth hurts?”, this is one of the endearing answers I received when talking to grade 4’s about mental health and stigma.
While I love talking to teens and adults, the elementary kids I speak to since launching our Children’s Mental Health Presentation Programming have a special place in my heart. Grade 4 is the age when I started experiencing my own mental health challenges. I went from a happy kid who loved school and soccer and anything creative to one of the many people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more commonly referred to as OCD.
Many people are shocked to learn that elementary school kids often struggle with their mental health. Aren’t they too young to be depressed? Shouldn’t they just be worrying about life on the playground? Well… like anything mental health related, it happens a lot more than we’d care to think.
But hey… that’s okay! The moment we take away the stigma associated with mental health and teach kids from an early age that it’s just as acceptable to talk about a sprained ankle or a sore tummy, we can equip them with the tools they need to take care of themselves and to reach out for help when they need it.
Even as a ten-year-old I somehow sensed that the intrusive thoughts and painfully time-consuming compulsions I was experiencing weren’t “normal” and were something I shouldn’t talk about. Because of the lack of education and awareness around mental health then, I kept my burden a secret. I still had good grades, I was still “achieving”, but I was also deeply suffering.
When we add stigma to mental health challenges, it’s a scary obstacle that is hard to face. But when we strip away the shame and silence that give it power, mental health issues are just like any other challenge—hard at times, but surmountable. And like any challenge, if treated with the right care and compassion, a person can transform that pain into empathy and strength.
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