Our Kids are Suffering like Never Before

11:17 AMHeather

It was almost in a hushed tone, if an email could be written that way. My heart sank as I read it. Her disclaimer. Her words which seemed to be carefully chosen. About how she's wanted to tell us for a while, but just now felt she could.

Here's what she confided in us. Her son is suffering. Battling depression. Fighting hard. 

And this warrior mom is fighting for him. With him. On his behalf. And I could sense her fatigue through the tone of her email. 

I wish this news was rare. I wish I hadn't heard this same hushed confession as many times as I have. I wish I was not seeing this trend that seems to be increasing.

Precious friends whose children are suffering. From anxiety and depression and bipolar disorders, or other undiagnosed struggles of mental health. In epic proportions and epidemic trends. It's startling to me and quite unsettling. And I feel completely helpless on the sidelines of this battle ground. 

Because I can see the angst in the eyes of the mothers. Who are dear friends. Amazing people who have done everything "by the book," so to speak, to ensure their children are growing up healthy and happy and well adjusted. If I had to be brutally honest, I have to admit that I've breathed a sigh of gratitude that it's not my kid.

But it could be. It might be. Because the truth is it could happen to any of us.

This same painful confession of mental health struggles has been repeated to me so many times that I did some research. Because to me, in my little circles, it feels like it's a circumstance repeated way too many times. And increasing in frequency.

Sure enough. It's not just me. 

In 2007, the US Surgeon General's office released the following statement: "about 11 percent of youths -- about four million -- have a major mental-health disorder that results in significant trouble at home or school or with peers, and only one in five of these children actually get the treatment they need."

The cause of this uprising trend? The report speculates that part of it is the pressure our culture puts on kids these days to excel, earlier and earlier, in order to get ahead. Additionally, it cites the access to information where kids can watch over 500 channels full of information designed to scare them or make them discontent and set unrealistic expectations, and we are not wired for this kind of overload.

But truth be told, can we really ever pinpoint the why? The most important thing to note is the increase in frequency.

Additionally, a report issued by the Center for Disease Control in 2013 also found an increase in mental health issues in kids from age 3 - 17, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among adolescents aged 12-17 in 2010.

Bloggy friends, these aren't just numbers. If you don't know someone in the middle of this crisis, then I venture to guess that you will. Because I've been grieved by how many friends have confided in me that their son is struggling with anxiety. And I don't mean afraid of monsters under the bed. I mean, debilitating "I don't want to leave my house or be away from mom and dad or go to school" kind of anxiety attacks. Or friends whose daughters are struggling with depression. Which can even impair their ability to function. Or the news that TWICE this last school year, a high schooler at my son's school died from suicide.

I've been speechless at the times I've learned a friend lost a family member to suicide or has had to seek treatment for their children or teen. Or has had their world turned upside down with the crippling fear of where the depression or anxiety might lead for their child.

And for me, one of the worst parts of this is how these families are suffering in silence. Despite "how far we've come" in this information age, these families feel the sting of judgment and condemnation and are collapsing under the weight of the battle they fight, day in and day out.

It would seem that while we like to pat ourselves on the back as a society where we can openly discuss things and receive information overload, I don't think we've come far enough when our friends feel any sense of shame over what is happening behind closed doors.

It just shouldn't be. It's kicking someone when they are down every time we as a culture play the blame game when a kid or teen is wrestling with depression, anxiety or any other mental health problem.

Have we in the church not come any further than these people?

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
John 9:1-2

This was Jesus' very own disciples who made this massive assumption that sin was the cause of an ailment. And we tend to scoff at such ignorance.

But I have to say, from watching my friends fight it out in the shadows for their children...I don't think we've come all that far from such ignorance ourselves.

One of my friends, who is deep in the trenches fighting against mental illness for her children, has used a term that I think sums up the pain of this type of battle.

She says that what her family deals with, day in and day out, is not a casserole disease.

It's not a health ailment or health crisis where people show up with casseroles to help you through it. Instead, it tends to be a lonely battle because people don't know what to say. Or they assume there was some faulty parenting or some horrible problem within the child that is leading to this problem. 

Because we still jump to the blame game like the disciples did with the blind man instead of showing up to sit in the suffering with the hurting.

As if it is contagious. We seem afraid to get our hands dirty. We see the deer in the headlights look of the parents who lose sleep over worry for their child's serious illness. We want to downplay that it is often a fight for life and death. We see how uncomfortable it is for those in the midst of it, and fresh out of words, we offer none instead.

Shame on us. Truly, we can do better. And I think it's high time we resolve to do just that. To do better.

I think it's high time we get past our own stereotypes or fears and just listen with great empathy and care and concern. It's time we go with a meal in hand and a box of kleenex. It's time we have frank conversations with our kids about what to do when they feel themselves struggling or they see a friend doing just that.

It's time we discuss it and address it and learn how to walk along side it. 

Can you even imagine leaving a friend to suffer alone if her child was given the diagnosis of a chronic disease that could be deadly or crippling?

Yet we do just that with our friends whose kids are in the fight for their lives to find healing and stability while living with mental health illnesses.

Look, I don't have it figured out. I'm not so good at this myself. I've got a long way to go and I need my friends who are hurting to help inform and equip me to stand along side of them. 

All I've got is a whole lot of anger at this point. I'm hopping mad that these kids are dealing with their childhoods being robbed by a kind of pain that feels immeasurable because it's not visible. 

I'm sick to death of watching families being torn apart and attacked from within and from the outside by mental illness and people's inability to know what to do to help. Sure, it's easy to say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I'll pray for you," and then silently pray a prayer of gratitude that it's not your kid.

Except it is. It really truly is your kid. Because these are OUR kids.These are the friends and peers of our children. These are the children of people we know and love. This is our community, this is our village under attack. 

And I think we can do better. I know we can. I know we can quit kicking people when they're down by choosing to watch the struggle from a safe distance or adding insult to injury by even questioning what was done wrong to cause the problem.

Does it even matter? Do we even bother asking ourselves what lifestyle choice might have caused the cancer?

Let's resolve to quit that line of questioning when it comes to mental illness.

Let's just learn to make mental illness a casserole disease. Let's show up and stick around. Let's have ears to listen and arms to hug and hands to hold and an availability to sit in the pain with them.

And let's, for the love, drop to our knees and beg and plead on their behalf, asking the Almighty God to hold back the powers of darkness that are overcoming our kids. Let's not offer a quick prayer, but let's storm the Throne Room regularly and mightily and firmly for these hurting families. Asking God to strengthen them. Asking for wisdom to help them. Asking God for healing and for his light to pierce the darkness that is taking our kids under.

Day after day after day.

Let's be prayer warriors fighting the fight with all those we know who are hurting. When we don't know what else to do, just being present and available and willing to get dirty in the muck is enough.

The only thing worse than suffering is when we suffer alone because no one wants to enter our pain with us.

So, let's.

Let's just be near. And stick around. No matter what.

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