Why 'All Kids Do That' Doesn't Apply to My Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

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If you have a child with trauma issues, I’m sure your well-meaning friends and family members have asked you at least a million times: “What’s the big deal? All kids do that!”

They’re not wrong.

Sure, lots of kids do lie, talk a lot, play too rough, fight with their siblings and talk back. Kids have illogical reasoning and get angry when their parents don’t understand. Yes, all kids do things that make us mad, that scare us, that irritate us. Some kids engage in these behaviors daily just because they’re kids. But kids with trauma behaviors don’t engage in “normal negative behavior” because their trauma responses take “normal negative behaviors” into scary movie territory.

In the first video of Heather Forbes’s online parenting course, she says something I want you to memorize, repeat and utilize when people give you that look. You know the look. The one that says, “Your kids are fine!” Oh, I hate that look.

Forbes says something along the lines of: My child’s behaviors are not the concern, but rather the intensity, the frequency and the duration of the behaviors.

I’ll use my youngest’s tantrums to illustrate what I’m talking about here.

It’s normal for young kids to have tantrums. But for the average 4-year-old, this tantrum lasts five minutes.

Now, I don’t want to dismiss the feelings of parents whose children engage in “normal” fit-throwing behavior, because fits are annoying and exasperating. They test the limits of even the most saintly, with-it parent. I know even “normal” tantrums can be absolutely horrible. But kids with traumatic pasts engage in completely different tantrum behavior. Unless they’ve healed through therapeutic interventions, children who have experienced trauma do not engage in “normal” fit-throwing behavior. The tantrums of my children who have been traumatized do not last for five minutes. They don’t happen “a few times a week.” They aren’t merely expressions of frustration, anger, sadness or exhaustion. They’re unpredictable and are not easy to avoid with small modifications in routine or expectations. They aren’t easily managed by utilizing traditional techniques such as ignoring the behavior or putting the kids in time-out.

No. Trauma-tantrums are something else entirely. My little one once had a meltdown that lasted for five days. That is, of course, an extreme example and thankfully has not happened since, but my youngest’s meltdowns used to be constant and all-consuming. Before we started him at his behavioral therapy program, his meltdowns occurred daily and lasted for at least two hours, but more often lasted four hours. Every day.

And they were — and still are — violent. My husband and I have barricaded ourselves in the room with him, keeping him away from his sisters and the cat. He has gouged holes into the walls of his room by throwing things. Countless toys have fallen victim, and I’ve been physically hurt on a small number of occasions.

The craziest thing about his fits, though, is that no matter what we do to avoid or calm his fits of absolutely terrifying anger and sadness and anxiety, nothing really works. Nothing. We’ve tried several methods of dealing with his meltdowns and have even gone so far as to commit the ultimate parenting faux pas and given him what we thought he wanted. But even acquiescing just intensified his rage.

If you’re parenting a child with trauma-related behavior issues, you know the truth in what I’m about to say:

The behaviors that consume so much of our lives are not normal.

I want readers who support a friend or family member who parents a child who has experienced trauma to know that we trauma-mamas-and-papas understand you have the best intentions in mind when you say things like, “Oh, that’s normal,” or, “Yeah, my kid does that, too!” or “When my kid does that, I do this and it works every time.” However, those words, earnestly said in an attempt to assist a distressed loved one are more likely to frustrate the very person you want to help.

That’s not an attempt to discourage you from offering up tips to parents like me and my husband. Some traditional parenting advice does work well with our children and sometimes we are open to suggestions. However, if you have never raised a child with trauma issues and want to sympathize, empathize and advise a trauma parent, you should ask them the following question before you respond: “Do you want my advice, or do you just want me to listen?”

Because some days, when I call my mom or my friends ranting that my son threw a car seat at me while I was driving or how my middle child manipulated a reward system I thought was working, I don’t want advice, especially if I’m calling shortly after the upsetting event took place. I just want to talk about it, get it out and hear, “Wow, that sucks! What did you do?”

Other days, usually after I’ve calmed down of course, I’m completely open to the advice of others because I know my fellow parents know their stuff, whether or not they are raising neuro-typical children, physically disabled children or children with mental issues.

So, bottom line: Kids with trauma issues may seem like perfectly normal kiddos with no issues. They may even be completely angelic in your presence if you don’t interact with them frequently. You might question the sanity of parents who seem hostile or angry when they talk about or interact with their kids. However, please recognize the validity of their parents’ concerns, because while the specific behavior may be “normal,” the intensity, frequency and duration of that behavior is not. Please keep this in mind if you want to help or advise a trauma parent.

Sarah Neal and her family outside. She and her husband kiss, and her kids have their hands over their eyes.
Sarah and her family.

Follow this journey on Trauma Mama Drama.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

 

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18 Clever Responses for When People Say Mental Illness is 'All in Your Head'

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When people say, “It’s all your head!” to a person with a mental illness, they’re most likely not pointing out where the illness originates from. Instead that phrase implies — and reinforces the misconception — that a person with a mental illness is somehow being dramatic and would feel better if only they could stop thinking about it. The phrase suggests that because the origin of a mental illness is not seemingly physical, it’s somehow less legitimate.

So for those who can’t understand why a person can’t just turn off anxiety or why petting a puppy can’t pull someone out of depression, here’s what our Mighty readers have to say. Because while there are things you can do to better manage mental illness, dismissing it entirely isn’t one of them.

Here are 18 responses to, “It’s all in your head”:

1. “So simple but useful: ‘If someone had a broken leg, you wouldn’t ask them to run, would you?’” — Amy S Paegel

2. “It is in my head. It’s a mental illness, but that doesn’t make it not real.” — Abby Stansel

mental illness meme: It is in my head. It's a mental illness, but that doesn't make it not real.

3. “You can’t see a major panic disorder or depression with the naked eye. You can’t see asthma either — until the right conditions leave you gasping for breath.” — Cassandra Coogan

4. “It is all in my head! I’m wired differently, and I have an illness, an illness that requires me to be medicated and see a professional once a week. I take that seriously!” — Melissa Cote

5. “You can’t tell just by looking at someone what they are dealing with inside.” — Danielle Rupp

mental illness meme: You can't tell just by looking at someone what they are dealing with inside.

6. “Just because you can’t ‘see’ it, doesn’t mean it’s not real.” — Shannon Dolan Starmer

7. “There’s no difference between my brain not being able to make correct levels of serotonin and my pancreas not being able to make the right amounts of insulin.” — Paula Cayer

mental illness meme: There's no difference between my brain not being able to make correct levels of serotonin and my pancreas not being able to make the right amounts of insulin.

8.“‘You aren’t in my shoes.’” — Cynthia Adams McGrath

9. “With all the information out there, with so many people affected, you not taking this seriously says more about you than me.” — Nicole Ricketts

mental illness meme: With all the information out there, with so many people affected, you not taking this seriously says more about you than me.

10. “Not all illnesses are fixed with a bandage.” — Beth Winters

11. “My seizure disorder is all in my head, too. But nobody tells me not to treat that. Neither do we recommend ignoring my son’s autism, which is all in his head. Many people have illnesses. The fact that you can’t see them doesn’t make it any less real or any less significant.”  Angela Bond

12. “Yes, it’s in my head. That’s where my brain is.” — Georgina Lee

mental illness meme: Yes, it's in my head. That's where my brain is.

13. “It’s not only in my head; there are debilitating physical symptoms.” — Erica Enos

14. “Some days I control it and other days it controls me. I don’t expect you to understand, but I’m open to discussing it with you as long as you ask without judgment.”  Katie DeMore

15. “Of course it is [in my head]. Where else would my depression be? In my toenails?”  Bob McKay

mental illness meme: Of course it is [in my head]. Where else would my depression be? In my toenails?

16. Don’t dismiss my disease as less simply because you cannot see the injuries. Some of my deepest scars don’t show, but are a part of my everyday existence.” — Frances Bene Fann

17. “No one asks to be sick — heart disease, diabetes or mental illness. It’s just something that happens.”  Peggy Cannalley

18. “This is not a choice.” — Calandra Rubin

mental illness meme: This is not a choice.

*Some responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

18 Clever Responses for When People Say Mental Illness is 'All in Your Head'
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5 Seconds of Summer Member Makes Brave Mental Health Statement to Crowd

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Last night at a show in Detroit, 5 Seconds of Summer guitarist Michael Clifford opened up to his fans in a major way.

During the show, the musician told the crowd that while the Australian pop-punk band had taken a short hiatus from touring, he’d been seeing a therapist for his mental health.

“I was fixing some problems with my mental health,” he said. “I just saw a therapist real quick on the break we had.”

It was just a few sentences, but the impact has been huge. Fans from all over the world, armed with the hashtag #WeLoveYouMicheal, have been tweeting about Clifford to show their support. Many said how proud they were of him for opening up.

Hopefully his words will show the band’s younger fan base there’s nothing wrong with talking about mental health.

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Laura Hospes Documents Her Stay At a Psychiatric Hospital With Powerful Self-Portraits

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Update Oct. 20: You can now find Laura Hospes’ work in a book entitled “UCP.” 

When Dutch photographer and student Laura Hospes was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital, she processed the experience one of the only ways she knew how — through her lens.

Now her photo series, “UCP-UMCG,” named after the psychiatric hospital in the Netherlands where she stayed, documents the 21-year-old’s journey to recovery through a series of self-portraits. After a suicide attempt, she began treatment for depression and an eating disorder, according to the Daily Mail.

During her stay, Hospes told The Mighty in an email, she was allowed to have one item in her room.

“I had no difficulties having my camera with me, only when I had to stay in an isolation room I couldn’t photograph anymore. But after a couple of days the rules were less strictly and I was able to have one item in my room. I changed from camera to laptop to phone etc.” she told The Mighty.

Feeling overwhelmed and confused when she first entered the hospital, Hospes used photography as a way to rediscover herself.

“I couldn’t make contact with my own emotions and I felt like I was floating somewhere in the air with heavy stones tied on my whole body,” she told The Mighty. “After a month I slowly found myself back and the emotions screamed in my head. I was extremely sad or extremely angry. I felt so desolated in hospital, even if there were friend or family around me.”

The photo series won the photographer a spot on LensCulture’s list of 50 best emerging photographers for 2015 in the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards.

“At first, I made this complete series for myself, to deal with the difficulties and express my feelings,” Hospes told The Mighty. “After that, I want to inspire people who are or have been in a psychiatric hospital. I want them to see my pictures and recognize themselves in it. I hope they feel taken seriously, less crazy and less alone.”

See her power self-portraits below:

laura self portrait
photo: Laura Hospes
laying against bed side
photo: Laura Hospes
front, blurred portrait
photo: Laura Hospes
close up gripping shoulder and wincing
photo: Laura Hospes
back view of laying on bed
photo: Laura Hospes
profile portrait
photo: Laura Hospes
front portrait, hair covering half of face
photo: Laura Hospes
screaming in a corner
photo: Laura Hospes
serious hunched over portrait
photo: Laura Hospes
close up, looking worried
photo: Laura Hospes
shoulder-up photo
photo: Laura Hospes
sitting on chair
photo: Laura Hospes
hunched over on bed
photo: Laura Hospes
blurred, laying on bed
photo: Laura Hospes
close up, head back
photo: Laura Hospes
crumpled tissue in her mouth
photo: Laura Hospes
hunched over naked on bed
photo: Laura Hospes

To see more of Laura’s work, visit her website.

Clarification: Information has been added to this piece about the location of the hospital and the nature of her stay.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

 

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34 Mental Health Tips Every Incoming Freshman Needs to Hear

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Going to college changes…well, almost everything. For many incoming students, it’s their first time living away from home, managing their diets, having a flexible schedule and being away from family and childhood friends. While the transition can be hard for everyone, college also marks an age when mental health issues can start to arise. Half of all serious adult psychiatric illnesses – including major depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse – start by 14 years of age, according to a study released by Arch Gen Psychiatry. Three-fourths of them are present by age 25.

But the sad reality is this: The 18-24 year old age group shows the lowest rate of help-seeking, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, according to the American Psychological Association.

But it doesn’t have to be this way — there are things you can do to take care of your mental health in college. The Mighty teamed up with Active Minds, a nonprofit organization that empowers students to speak openly about mental health, and asked, What mental health advice would you give to incoming college freshman?” The answers, from people who’ve been there, can help if you’re an incoming freshman with mental health concerns or any college student interested in taking care of your brain.

Consider this your first lesson:

1. “Don’t feel like you need to abide by anyone else’s plan; if you graduate in five and a half years instead of four because you take a course load you can handle successfully, it’s worth so much more than four years of misery and half-learning.” — Abby Naumann

2. “If you have a free counseling center on campus, then by all means utilize it. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’m struggling with…’ and go!” — Annette McClellan

3. “Focus on yourself rather than your degree. Education can always wait, but mental health isn’t as patient.” — Eleanor Harvey

"Focus on yourself rather than your degree. Education can always wait, but mental health isn't as patient."

4. “Identify your 3-2-1: Three things you can do when you feel anxious/depressed (like go for a walk, take deep breaths, listen to music), two people you could talk to when you feel anxious/depressed and one promise to yourself like, ‘I promise to take care of myself. My health and happiness is important.’” — Julia Powers

5. “Drugs and alcohol are not a replacement for getting real help with mental illness. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.” — Tiffany Worland

6. “Call your mom!” — Linda Hall Ashley

Call your mom.

7. “If you were in counseling before, continue with it. It’s better to start college off with a support system than realize during the year you’re in trouble.” — Kristen Stanton

8. “Know you are enough. It’s OK to make mistakes and have doubts. You most likely aren’t alone on your campus when it comes to mental illness. The more I opened up about it, the quicker I was able to find my true friends and the best support system I could have ever asked for.”  Erin Cochran

9. “It’s OK to walk away from your work. If you walk away (literally), allow yourself to get some fresh air. Drink some tea, read a book, watch a movie. Never forget to take a break!” — Clairice Kalkhof

10. “Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Self-care is key.” — Krysta Lee Deranick

Don't forget to take care of yourself. Self-care is key.

11. Don’t waste time on how your experience ‘should’ be, but work towards strengthening yourself during this truly life-changing time.” — Cait Woodward

12. “Join a club you never saw yourself joining. Meet new friends who look different than you. Don’t be afraid to branch beyond your comfort zone. These relationships will be key in dealing with any stress that comes.”  — Ashley Brooner

13. “Sleep. Please make time to sleep. Life seems so much harder when you’re exhausted.”  — Katie Hall

Sleep. Please make time to sleep. Life seems so much harder when you're exhausted.

14. “If you feel like you’re in trouble, ask for help. A friend, professor, counselor, dorm advisor — there are so many resources at your fingertips that could save you.” — Emma M Pratt

15. “Set up a time to talk with and develop a relationship with your Residence Advisor.” — Nan Ann

16. “Not everyone has a mental illness, but everyone has mental health. It’s your responsibility to take care of your mental health.” Andrea Nguyen

Not everyone has a mental illness, but everyone has mental health. It's your responsibility to take care of your mental health."

17. If you had a therapist you saw regularly at home, talk to them about helping you find another therapist near school. Look into it, and don’t just abruptly stop therapy — even if you think you can handle it  because college is tough and treatment should continue.” — Alyse Ruriani

18. Give yourself a break if you find yourself struggling to adjust. This is new and it’ll take time to get in the swing of things. Talk to people with more college experience like student mentors and try to have realistic expectations for yourself.” — Lauren Grnbrg

19. “Trust your gut if something feels wrong. Don’t let people tell you it’s just the stress of a life change.” — Meah Berry

Trust your gut if something feels wrong. Don't let people tell you it's just the stress of a life change.

20. “Don’t compare yourself to others because everyone works at different paces and has different needs. Congratulate yourself when you do well. Take all the time you need — if it takes you a little longer to complete the course, that’s OK.”— Annabelle Edge

21. “Deal with whatever you find distressing as soon as you can. Don’t put a hold on your mental well-being.” — Gabriela Constantin-Dureci

22. “Be aware of what resources are available to you both on and off campus. Does your college have a counseling center? Where is it, when is it open and do you need to make an appointment? Does your college have a disability resource center? Are there accommodations you can receive from them? Make a list of your resources so that you can easily find the information you need.”  — Angeline Nguyen

23. Know when to say no. A night in can be a chance to recharge your batteries.” — Christie Marie

Know when to say no. A night in can be a chance to recharge your batteries.

24. “Tell at least three people you trust a little bit about ‘your’ story. Opening up to others who are in close proximity is absolutely vital. You may be pleasantly surprised to find you have a lot in common.”  Maryann Edgerley

25. “Allow yourself time every day to relax.” — Alex Nicole

26. “Take on only what you can handle. Only do what feels right for you. Don’t worry about anyone else. It’s your life, take care of it.” — Bunnie A Kelly

27. “Don’t be hard on yourself.” — Gerry Dougherty

Don't be hard on yourself.

28. “Campuses generally have a service called Disability Support Services. If you have a diagnosed mental health issue, you can take a doctor’s note to them and they’ll help you get help in your classes. If you get anxious taking tests, they can have your teachers move you to a quiet room and give you extra time. If you are depressed and miss some days, they can help you get caught up and not suffer bad grades. On those days when you just can’t, Disability Support Services can.” — Jessica Lynn Sprayberry

29. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because of your disability, because you can! Trust me!” — Amy Walsh

30. “Don’t try to do it on your own.”  — Terrie Page

Don't try to do it on your own.

31. “Please know that there is no ‘right’ way to experience college. When I started, I had so many people tell me if I didn’t live on campus or do things a certain way, I would miss out on the college experience. Well the truth is, everyone can create their own college experience.”  Marie Lynne

32. “Build a strong support system before heading off to school.” — Domonique Grant

33. “Be your own advocate. Speak to professors — they’re only human, too.” — Torie Keeton

34. “Don’t buy into the stigma.” — Jeffrey Chavez

Don't buy into the stigma.

 What would you add? Tell us in the comments below. 

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

To learn information about getting involved in your school’s Active Minds chapter —or starting your own — click here.

*Some answers have been shortened and/or edited.

Editor’s note: This advice cannot replace talking to your doctor about the best way to take care of your mental illness in college.




34 Mental Health Tips Every Incoming Freshman Needs to Hear

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Why These Depressed Cookies Are Good for Mental Health

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frowny face cookie
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop

While it might be unnerving to see a cookie cry, these cookie are frowning for a good cause. They’re part of The Depressed Cake Shop, a pop-up bake shop that donates all of its proceeds to mental health efforts. 

U.K.-based creative director Emma Thomas cooked up the original concept in August of 2013. Her vision was a bake-sale style fundraiser that sold exclusively gray cakes, cookies and goodies, and brought awareness and funds to mental health causes.

It’s about challenging stigmas and labels,” Thomas says on the Depressed Cake Shop’s website. “When someone says ‘cupcake,’ you think pink icing and sprinkles. When someone says ‘mental health,’ an equally unimaginative stereotype will pop into most minds. By having gray cakes, we’re challenging the expected and getting people to challenge the labels they put on those who suffer with a mental illness.”

Originally conceived as a one time stint, the project soon took a life of its own after some passionate volunteers decided to bring it to America, Valerie Van Galder, one of the shop’s self-proclaimed “ringleaders,” told The Mighty.

“There’s something about it,” she said. “We kind of couldn’t stop.”

donuts with black frosting
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop

Van Galder, a successful film studio executive in Hollywood, is now one of the “co-conspirators” who’ve continued the shop’s legacy. Her life changed drastically when her father, who had bipolar disorder, had a psychotic break after her mom died of cancer. Her colleagues were understanding when her mom was sick, but her father’s illness was a different story. Without support and feeling unable to open up about her situation, she quit a high-level position to take care of her dad.

It was during this time she discovered The Depressed Cake Shop.

cookies with frowny faces
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop

She immediately contacted the shop, and although she didn’t make it to London, found someone in Los Angeles who was interested in organizing with her. She was in business.

“I wanted to channel my sadness into purpose. I want to do something about it,” she said. “I took something really scary that actually cost me my career and turned it around until something positive.”

Now, Depressed Cake Shops have popped up everywhere from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston to Australia and India, and have raised more than $60,000 for various mental health causes. The shop’s gray goodies were sold at a special screening of Pixar’s “Inside Out” and at a performance of “This is My Brave” in Boston. 

Each location supports a different, usually local mental health charity or organization. Many of the cakes were designed and donated by bakers who have personal experience or a connection with depression or other mental health issues, and baked goods are often unique. But mostly, the project has created a community of bakers and organizers who are passionate about finding creative ways to bring awareness to mental health issues.

“I’ve met other people like me,” Van Galder said. “I feel like I’m in an army.”

gray macaroons with rainclouds
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop
Van Galder and The Depressed Cake Shop will be in Orange County, California this Saturday, August 15. All proceeds will go to the Mental Health Association of Orange County. For more information, visit their Facebook page.

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