The Center for Disease Control has cited mental health issues in the United States as its greatest health problem. It creates costs greater than cancer and heart disease. Yet, as a society we still bury it, we are still ashamed of it and we still hold back from exposing the root of some of the problem. What is worse is the cause and effect of most mental health issues is known but remains unaddressed.
Society must laud these valiant souls, wildflowers if you will, who struggle to make a life for themselves in a world that can’t comprehend what they feel, see, or hear, especially when off their meds. They are pegged the bad kids in school, the odd people at work or in social situations. Their behaviors reflect what is going on inside and this internal confusion can be a daily occurrence. Their emotions are murky, and they drown in their agony to love another, to live with others, to express their always above average intelligence with the world – in short, to be.
Those who have been diagnosed with one of many Social Behavioral Disorders struggle to focus on everyday realities. Even though the origins of these mental disorders cannot be traced in all people, most victims have been deeply traumatized from physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse, and their brains have been transformed by that experience. While not all psychologists agree, there are research scientists who have labeled this as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) which develops due to exposure at an early age to trauma from violence or family dysfunction. Depending upon the severity of the trauma, they acquire varying degrees of social behavioral disorders such as, borderline personality disorder, bi-polar disorder, clinical depression, and schizophrenia (Van Der Kolk, 2015). Anyone who has been exposed to someone who has experienced childhood molestation, rape, physical abuse, and neglect may have witnessed the lack of reason displayed when that person is challenged or misperceives an injustice aimed at them. Literal screams swell from their souls masked by their inability to relay their pain. They are the shrieks from past abuse; from the lack of compassion they experienced while growing up and the latent cries of their shattered souls. The pain that they have suffered, has been stuffed down deep inside as though they are the ones to blame for their abuse, and they are ashamed of it. Because of this, they constantly struggle to see the world as a “normal” and it will forever elude them. The fight continues daily.
According to Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. (2015), people who are traumatized become hypervigilant and numb, and therefore have a hard time enjoying simple life experiences. They keep themselves safe by living superficial lives and conducting superficial relationships and invent their own realities. In some, they cannot express deep emotion, but rather create a scenario in their minds that they can accept. These stories to others seem like lies or the acting out of a movie script in real life (Personal Communications/Observations, 2017). Reasons why they lie could be attributed to delusions, memory lapses, manic symptoms like grandiosity, and impulsiveness. For those with bi-polar disorder it could be due to bipolar/creativity connection, and then the lies might be attributed to a clash of racing thoughts and pressured speech. Their lies are based on their impulsivity, shame, and intense emotions (Salters-Pedneault, K., 2019). In time, the “lies” affect their credibility and destroy relationships and real opportunities.
Adverse Childhood Experiences. Vincent Felitti, in 1985, started a longitudinal study lasting 25 years of people who experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). He discovered that one out of ten people are sworn at, insulted, and put down by someone in their household. More than a quarter have been pushed slapped and were often hit so hard they were injured. Twenty-eight percent of women and sixteen percent of men have been sexually molested or raped, and one in eight people have witnessed their mothers being physically hurt by their partner.
With the information learned from his research, Felitti developed a scoring system called the ACE score. It ranges from zero to ten. By using this system, he was able to see a direct link between trauma and related social behavioral disorders. What he concluded is that incidents of abuse are directly correlated to psychological damage that manifests into behaviors which first surface in school. Society looks at them as behavioral problems because the victims don’t comply with educational social norms. In other words, they can’t respond to a regulated educational model.
As the amount of personal suffering increases, according to the ACE score, the psychological outcomes are more severe. Children who were first diagnosed with ADD or ADHD at the onset of school, can be later diagnosed with clinical depression, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia which result in alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide. Children who experienced sexual abuse and severe mental, emotional, and physical abuse can suffer from a variety of these disorders at the same time.
The most common remedy has been to prescribe drugs and therapy. Studies suggest that people who are clinically depressed due to a lack of natural serotonin, do well with these drugs. However, those who have developed behavioral disorders due to trauma, especially anxiety and depression, have a positive reaction to the drug therapy for only a short time, and need increases in the dosage over their lifetimes (Van Der Kolk, 2015).
As per Robert Anda, a researcher for the CDC, the total costs of child abuse in the United States exceed those of cancer and heart disease. Ending child abuse in America would cut the rate of depression in half, alcoholism by two-thirds, and suicide, IV drug use, and domestic violence by three-fourths. While some in the psychiatric field disagree with this conclusion, there are others who believe that “… early maltreatment has enduring negative effects on brain development. Our brains are sculpted by our early experiences. Maltreatment is a chisel that shapes a brain to contend with strife, but at the cost of deep, enduring wounds. Childhood abuse isn’t something you ‘get over.’ It is an evil that we must acknowledge and confront if we aim to do anything about the unchecked cycle of violence in this country.” – Martin Teicher, MD, PhD, Scientific American.
Domestic violence in American culture has always been looked upon as a “private matter.” A shady secret which could ruin the lives of the abuser, victims prefer not to destroy the abuser’s reputation as well as make their family, especially the children, a spectacle for public attention and ridicule. It often is hidden for financial reasons. The abuser could easily lose his/her source of income, which would put the family at risk. For these reasons, domestic violence as the root cause of most Social Behavior Disorders, goes unchecked.
Education. As stated by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the numbers of children with behavioral disorders in grades K-12 is increasing. Contending with disruptions in class and the inability to keep children affected by behavioral problems focused affects the outcomes of all the children in the classroom. Perhaps the dilemma is in the way that behavioral disorders have been approached in the past. “We’re losing a lot of kids and a lot of teachers because we still view challenging kids the wrong way and handle them in ways that don’t address their true difficulties” (Greene, R. W., Ph.D., 2014)
When I was an afterschool program coordinator, I had the opportunity to observe and interact with six individual children who had been marked as “challenging” or “difficult.” They all found ways to interrupt other kids when they were studying or reading. It wasn’t that these children were of below average intelligence. On the contrary, they were all brilliant in one or more areas of study. So, my interns and work study people came up with certain learning tables. The most effective was what was called “the Math Circle.” The work study intern, who was studying to be an engineer, put difficult algebraic equations on a white board. All six of these children took part in the game of figuring out the answer. It was the most absorbed anyone had ever seen them. They stayed occupied for the entire two and a half hours.
Other tables introduced were storytelling tables, writing tables and art tables. Some of these had already been part of the afterschool program, but we challenged them playfully. For example, we had a live Trivial Pursuit game, where the kids had to get a ball into the basket of the category they wanted to answer. It required movement and they loved it.
In the scheme of education, play and calm acceptance instead of strict discipline by way of yelling or demands in a vocal exchange, works better for children with ACE to become receptive to further learning experiences. After interviews with young adults from eighteen to twenty-seven, who were trying to live with their behavioral disorders, I discovered that they preferred learning environments that allowed freedom to wander. It’s important to note that 90 percent of them had experienced physical, mental, and emotional abuse by a parent. All of them wished that they had experienced open learning environments when they were younger. They enjoyed and benefited from less structure and more independent study. Their behavior would have been better, because the demands of learning would have been left up to them. It was a way to learn more about their individual abilities. Each participant expressed the notion that he/she needed individual time to sort the learning challenge out on their own. People not only distracted them but annoyed them. It seemed that if they had to work with others, they preferred small groups with a maximum of four people. One of them referenced Delight Learning which is a program developed in China where students study English at their own pace (Personal Communications, 2018).
The basis for my upcoming book, Wildflowers, is a “what if” scenario. Taking into consideration the vast numbers of students struggling to learn despite their overwhelming mental challenges, my goal is to take a new approach to learning. It will explore the effects of abuse on children and how, as teenagers, they cope with it. Of course, the characters are as daring, and fun filled as always. But the story peeks into the lives of kids who are simmering with unseen restrained despair, the likes of which we can only imagine. If you want more information, you will just have to wait until August 2019. Ta-ta, and thanks for reading. E. M. Duesel
“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.”
—Jean Luc Godard