Don’t Miss the Obvious

Knowing the Difference Between Defiance and Bipolar Disorder

missIn retrospect, I wonder how I could miss the obvious. In fact, looking back at my adult life, I think I’ve missed the obvious on more than one occasion.

For example, a student gets caught smoking weed in the dormitory and spends three hours going berserk and ends up in a police car headed to the hospital. Another young woman goes from model student one month to raging alcoholic the next and drops out two weeks from graduation.

A young man drags himself to class day after day, close to catatonic—does he really hate English class that much? Maybe he uses drugs and no one realizes it. Or maybe he’s just depressed. But the depression goes on and on and on.

A young lady living with us seems to change overnight from a friendly and engaged family member to a sullen and accusatory adolescent. Eventually, her behavior returns to normal for awhile, but I hear stories of her life after graduation, and they make me sad: drug abuse, brushes with the law, jail time.

I confess I used to think that each of these incidents reflected on the parenting skills of the families of origin. Until something similar happened to us—an everyday average Christian family who had a daughter dive into deep depression and shoot out the other side a frenzied, angry, unreachable adolescent.

What did I miss? Because I never educated myself about mental health issues, I confused desperate behavior for defiant behavior. My students and my daughter all acted out of character (given, I understood this much better when it involved my daughter’s out-of-character behavior), but no one seemed to understand that defiance and drug or alcohol abuse weren’t part of their normal make up.

Those things signaled a deeper issue—a breakdown in mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Don’t be like me. Educate yourselves before it is too late. It’s no coincidence that the onset of bipolar disorder happens in adolescence and that adolescents are the most likely to commit suicide.

There's no PET scan for #mentalhealth issues. Educate yourself. It's a matter of life and death. #mentalhealthawarenessmonth Click To Tweet

Find out about different mental health issues that can face young adults and anyone, for that matter. Learn to ask, “Is this reaction beyond normal?” If the answer is yes, it’s time to start keeping track of behavior that you observe. Don’t be afraid to have an open conversation with an adolescent that you love and worry about.

And if the behavior turns out to be nothing more than a bad day or a bid for autonomy—that’s great. At least you didn’t miss something that could make the difference between life and death in a young person’s life.

It takes a village to help those with a #mentalillness. Learn how you can help. #DoNoHarm Click To Tweet

warning signs

Please share the infographic or the blog post or both!  Let’s get the word out about mental health issues–they are treatable, but, but first they need to be identified!

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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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