All of us who are parents know that bad behavior can often be attributed to overly permissive parenting that teaches a child that there are no consequences for their actions. We also know from research—and perhaps our own experiences either personally or professionally— that violence and trauma in the home and/or community is often the catalyst and cause of a child’s problematic behavior whether it be violent outbursts, willful defiance, or a tendency to totally shut down.
But what about mental illness? Sure, we hear about it in the context of school shootings and the gun control debate but what gets overlooked are the daily battles that parents fighting because they have a child who is sick with an illness that people can’t see. Their brain is sick and their behavior—which seems willful to onlookers—is the symptom.
HBO tackles the painful and difficult subject of boys with severe psychiatric disorders in a new documentary called ‘A Dangerous Son.’ The film, produced and directed by Liz Garbus, focuses on three families who are quite literally in crisis as they struggle with their sons’ severe mental illness. The footage is so personal and for that reason, viewers can really get a sense of what a family goes through when their child is mentally ill and has a behavioral disorder.
America, this is a subject that we ignore at our own peril not only because of how isolated our fellow parents, and their children, must feel in the midst of this nightmare but also because of the potential danger that a lack of resources, support, and treatment can create. There is no denying that we wrongly continue to stigmatize mental illness in this country so good on HBO for sharing the painful stories of these brave families in the hope that it will raise awareness and lead to better care for all who are suffering.
A Dangerous Son highlights the cycle of counselor visits, medications, hospitalizations and encounters with law enforcement common to many children and families grappling with psychiatric disorders. The guilt and isolation parents feel can be overwhelming, as is the constant worry that their child may harm himself or herself, or others. And while treatment can greatly improve the outcome, appropriate care is often a luxury available only to those who can afford it, or who happen to live in states with free or affordable treatment.
To read about a New Jersey mom’s personal experience with a son with mental illness, click here.
For resources on mental illness generally as well as mental illness and psychiatric disorders in children, click here.