Christy's post on General about if we consider our child to be mentally ill got me thinking. As a parent of a difficult child, a daughter in law of a schizophrenic woman and relative of a few who probably need a diagnosis, I realized that I haven't really done much to foster education and knowledge of mental illness. I'm not much of an advocate or "front line" person but I figured at the very least, I could try to get others to think about their views and maybe question their beliefs on mental illness. The following is a letter I've written and plan to send to the editor of my local newspaper and possibly one in a much larger town in the next county. How does it look to you? Is there anything I got wrong or that you feel I need to change or reword? Dear Editor, With a new school year upon us, I wanted to share some thoughts that may help students, teachers and parents alike. Mental health and/or behavioral issues regarding children seem to be all over the news these days. Most parents can tell stories of a student in their child's classroom that is disruptive or 'different' in some way and I'm sure that most teachers have one of these children in their class. While more and more people are becoming aware of such things as ADHD, Bipolar or other biological based mental illnesses, a lot of people still aren't aware that these syndromes/issues/illnesses can be the cause of disruptive behavior in children or that children even have mental illness. As a result, sometimes a child with a diagnoses is regarded as a brat, a result of bad parenting or simply a child in need of more discipline. What's not always understood though is that a lot of the unwanted behaviors are sometimes, beyond the child's control and is a direct result of their condition. Illnesses such as the ones mentioned, are largely biologically based and require various treatments to control just as you would control, for example, diabetes with diet changes and/or insulin. A diabetic whose sugar levels are out of whack can display changes in behavior and thought processes. A child with a mental illness is very similar. If their treatment, be it medicine, therapy or coping techniques, is in need of adjustment or has yet to begin or become effective, the behavior will usually show this. How we as parents, teachers or other authority figures respond to these behaviors can and will affect how the child responds. Punishing a child for being frustrated is not effective. Helping the child cope with their extreme frustration will. Punishing a child because they literally can not sit still won't help. Redirecting their energy into something possibly less distracting can be a solution. For example, if a child can't stop tapping their foot in class, allowing the child to remove his/her shoe when possible so the tapping would be much less audible could be a reasonable compromise. Many of today's children are diagnosed with various things. Technically, since they are brain based, be it ADHD, Bipolar or other various conditions, these would be considered a mental illness. That does not mean the child is crazy or that it is the fault of the parents. It simply means that their brain is wired differently or that the chemicals in the brain aren't quite what is considered 'normal' levels. As a medical condition, privacy may be desired by the parents or child but it is not something to be ashamed of just as one wouldn't be ashamed of diabetes, thyroid conditions or severe food allergies. The term mental illness encompasses a broad range of conditions that are biologically based but yet still carry the stigma of something to be kept secret and hidden away. This applies also to the many adults who have some sort of mental illness. With the right treatment however, most mentally ill children and adults are quite capable of functioning 'normally', attending school, holding good jobs and generally living their lives as a productive and contributing members of society. Children though are still developing; they are growing and are learning the best ways for them to treat, control and deal with whatever symptoms their diagnoses manifests itself in. As someone who has dealt with and still is dealing with mentally ill family members, I would like you to, if you encounter a child who seems to be a 'discipline problem', don't make assumptions. Take a moment to think and realize that maybe there is a medical reason for the behaviors you see rather than a lack of discipline or uninvolved parents. The same goes for adults who are whispered about because they are mentally ill. Mental illness may very well be a term in need of modernizing because with treatment, it is nothing to be ashamed or scared of. It is only the lack of the public's knowledge and education on the subject that is the problem.