I read a staggering study from Unicef that stated Canada is number 25 in the world for child psychological and physical safety. What does this look like?
55% of children and youth who visit the hospital do so due to mental health related reasons. Which really means they’ve contemplated suicide. 55%! That’s more than broken bones. Only 20% of these children will receive the help they need.
We still think trauma, and mental illness as something that happens “over there”, but it’s right beside you in affluent communities and in suburbia. If we’re being really honest, it’s in all of us. Being ranked only #25 means there’s more that happens behind closed doors than we are admitting.
This week I had the opportunity to interview Agnes, a survivor of childhood trauma caused by mental illness in her home. She is writing a new story for her family and creating a safe spaces for brave conversations for those who have experienced childhood adversity.
You don’t look like the type
Agnes: “When people look at me they don’t suspect I have come from such trauma. ‘You don’t look like that’, they say.
Well, no one does.”
There is no “type” of person who will struggle. It’s US. Mental illness and addiction is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, educated or not, a public figure, or a blue collar worker. You could be well respected in your community and even a leader in your church or religious group. We need to stop being shocked when we discover the pain behind the white picket fences that surround our beautiful homes and cars.
Agnes: “We have communities that don’t know this adversity exists. We need to be able to share the stories in a way that doesn’t overwhelm people. If someone shares a story of trauma with you, many times there’s much more they are not telling you because it’s just too dark. People don’t see brokenness. We live in Canada. We are wealthy as a country. Many will say we have it better than 3rd world countries, but adversity is adversity. A child’s brain doesn’t recognize levels of adversity. It affects the brain no matter how severe.”
Who do you tell?
Who do you tell when you’re angry or you’ve raged? Or when your child has threatened you, or you’ve threatened them? Or if things got out of control and someone got hurt? We put on a smile and pretend.
You don’t tell anyone.
This is why we’re number 25 in the world.
Agnes: “We don’t talk about the reasons why. We have kids who will advocate for social change but will never come forward to say they are being abused, or living with a parent with mental illness, or witnessing domestic violence. In fact, many children have no idea their parents may struggle with their own mental illness and emotional disregulation. This means the parent and child may see outbursts or violence as ‘normal’ if that’s all they’ve ever known.”
The dysfunctional becomes functional.
I never expected my family would struggle. When I was a young girl dreaming of having a family, I never would have dreamed the crisis our family has had to face. Much of our crisis leads directly back to my husband’s and my lack of knowledge of the brokenness we were carrying as “normal”. There was no talk of mental health when we were growing up. The only thing we knew was the insane asylum’s for crazy people. We weren’t “them”. But little did we know the insanity of watching abuse as a toddler and not thinking anything of it, or the harm a whole life of walking on eggshells afraid of blowups would do to us.
It’s not always abuse. It can be things that we associate as adversity. Trauma happens over time. It happens in homes where there is mental illness and addiction. People have their ideas of what they define abuse as. I don’t hit my kids but I yelled, and I didn’t realize how much that affected them. I didn’t just yell – I raged. My rage caused trauma. Instead of hiding it, I got help. Yelling did something to my children’s brain. I had to face it courageously.
Agnes: “You don’t expect to experience anger as a parent. It’s a normal human way to protect ourselves, but trauma turns it into a trigger that sends us off the deep end.”
Becoming human again, together
Agnes: “Parents feel so much shame when we see our kids struggling with things we have passed to them such as anxiety, depression. I had postpartum depression. It’s easy to do the blame game, yet it’s not the end of the story. Our brains are plastic, we can build new neuro-connections! We need to be more trauma informed in our schools in our hospitals so teachers and nurses/doctors know what’s behind it all. We need to provide safe places where people can be themselves, share their story, the dark parts of their story, and be supported and helped.”
We need to start treating the HUMAN. Rage, anger, brokenness that leads to addiction and abuse – these are human experiences. We need to stop making people feel like the bad guy when they find themselves in these places. This only isolates them and pushes them further into dysfunction. They lose hope there could ever be change. I’m not saying we normalize abuse, but we need to create spaces where people can share their darkness and not be pushed away, but helped and healed.
Agnes: “A person doing the abuse has experience trauma themselves often. The barrier for many in this place is not the desire to get help or change, but not feeling they belong or have value, or purpose. They beat themselves up. They need to feel understood and know they won’t be judged or penalized for speaking out to get help.”
No parent WANTS to beat their kids. No parent wants their home to feel unsafe. No one dreams of a home filled with brokenness. Our story is repeated until WE change it. Someone has to be brave, break the cycle and speak out, “I need help.” Who we tell is very important. If you are needing help reach out to people who you know are safe for you and will listen and not judge, but people who will also help you, not just allow things to stay the same. If someone bravely shares their story to you, listen. Don’t be shocked. It’s more common than you realize. Let them know you are with them and find them the professional help they need with them. Getting professional help can feel lonely and isolated, but it is important. They need support along the way.
Check out more what Agnes is doing through Starlings on instagram @starling_community
More about the story behind Starlings on our YouTube interview here
If you are struggling with a child with anxiety, depression, opposition or ADHD, I help parents rewrite their story and change their environment. Reach out to me here.
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