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Mental Illness Awareness Week: What I Wish I’d Known About Disclosure and Screening

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The United States Congress established National Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in 1990, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) facilitates MIAW the first week of October each year. This year’s theme, “What I Wish I Had Known,” focuses on the power of lived experience and addresses a different topic each day. Rather than publishing a newsletter this week, we share thoughts about each daily topic. Today there are two topics, disclosure and screening.

Ashley Ransom writes movingly about her journey in disclosing her bipolar illness on NAMI’s Mental Illness Awareness Week page. She shares how freeing self-disclosure can be, and the power of taking control of her narrative and realizing that disclosure is a process. “The more I tell my story, the more I realize that disclosing one’s mental illness is an art, not a science. ‘Coming out is a never-ending process, not a one-time grand event. I’ve learned that you do not have to tell everything to everyone.”

We are grateful for Ms. Ransom’s words. As parents on the same journey, we know how healing self-disclosure can be. We are here for any parent who wants to talk. We also encourage any parent who wants to use their journey with their child to help another parent going through something similar to consider becoming a parent-peer supporter. The next virtual training is November 14-18, and the application deadline is October 17.

As helpful as self-disclosure can be, we urge everyone to be careful in what they disclose about their child, especially in public or in the press. Young children cannot give informed consent, and what now seems harmless to share about them may be something they do not want to be shared about them when they are older. For older children, their stories may be different than ours. It is normal for parents and children to experience things differently. Our children’s stories are theirs to share if they choose to do so.

Sometimes schools or school districts ask families to disclose information about their children, such as hospital records or doctors’ letters describing children’s mental health conditions. We are unaware of any circumstances in which a family must provide such information and are always happy to support you in responding to such requests.

Today’s theme is about screening, too, especially for depression. Mental Health America has screenings for several mental health conditions, including depression. There is also a parent test about a child’s mental health and a youth mental health test. Mental Health America explains, “Online screening tools are meant to be a quick snapshot of your mental health. If your results indicate you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, consider sharing your results with someone. A mental health provider (such as a doctor or a therapist) can give you a full assessment and talk to you about options for how to feel better.”

Screening for developmental, social, emotional and behavioral problems is essential to overall medical care for young children. Help Me Grow Mississippi helps families understand developmental and social/emotional screening for young children and screens children at families’ requests. This checklist from Mississippi Thrive lets you know if your young child’s development is on track. The Well Visit Planner gives you more information about your child’s growth and helps you prepare for well-child visits. The information in it is not shared with anyone else, even your child’s doctor unless you choose to share it. This chart from the American Academy of Pediatrics outlines when medical care providers should conduct different screenings of children.

[Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash]

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