When my daughter was about 12 years old my wife and I took her to San Francisco. We had never been and thought it would be a nice get-a-way.
During our time there my daughter became ill with severe stomach issues. Thinking that she had just eaten too much junk food, I went down to the local market and got some Pepto-Bismol, which took care of the problem. Not thinking to have her checked out when we returned we allowed this incident to slip from our minds.
Several months later my daughter had another stomach issue. Then another. And another. Pepto stopped working.
To shorten this story, we took her to a doctor and he ordered a CAT scan, and what they found horrified us: her gall bladder was packed with stones. The poor kid was living with this pain and we continually believed it was junk-food related!
For just about every illness there are signs and symptoms. I would even go as far as saying that there are early detection devices that can be used to detect diseases before they become a problem or even life threatening. However, that is not the case for mental illness.
Yes, there are some things that can be noticed—if you are looking. Yes, there are some mental illnesses that can be somewhat targeted with genetic testing. For the most part, there is nothing that has been developed that can definitively target a mental health issue prior to it actually manifesting itself in us or our children, and this is a problem. So, it all comes down to us—as individuals, as parents, as people who care about our loved ones—to keep an eye on things before they become a huge problem.
Recently, I was asked about what I thought was "going wrong" with our children by some friends who have teens involved in all the things today's teens are involved in—sports, social media stuff, girls/boys, studies—and they spend a lot of time gaming.
What I believe is "wrong with our kids" is that we, as parents/adults, are not paying attention. In the case of my daughter, my wife and I were not paying attention. Even knowing that our little girl was surviving on Rice Cakes and not eating a lot of junk food, we were not really paying attention. It took us three years and the problem had grown to such an extent we could have caused other issues had we not acted when we did!
I believe that we as parents are disengaging from our kids too soon. Look around your own home, how your kids are acting, and what they are involved in. Maybe we feel that they're sitting in the basement playing video games for hours on end is safer than being "on the streets". Maybe we feel that the arguments we'll have with them are not worth the time when we ask them to do chores or just spend time with the rest of the family. Maybe we are too busy with work to get home at a decent time to spend time with them. We certainly do not want to sit and go over homework with them.
We, as a society, need to re-engage with our kids and take definitive action when we see things going wrong. Set aside your own needs and desires, and get going finding the services for you or your kids, and we will see a small decline in tragedies going forward.
Jeff Rice is the director of Behavioral Health Services at Campbell County Health. BHS provides professional mental health and substance abuse services to the community through prevention, education, advocacy and treatment. Our services support all ages in the community. Appointments are available Monday–Friday from 8 am–5 pm. Call 307.688.5000. Learn more at