“Because I was a child when I had my first psychotic break,” Carol explains, “I didn’t know how to express it and I lashed out.”
Carol’s severe mental illness symptoms grew so extreme it caused her to drop out of high school. If not for her mother’s involvement in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Carol wonders whether or not she would have recovered.
No longer a little girl, Carol now stands about 6 feet tall with brown hair and brown eyes. When she walks into a room, her service dog Pepper stands beside her.
“Many parents are in the position of trying to figure out if their child is having normal teenage mood swings or if it is something more serious,” explains Dr. Laura Stith, chief clinical officer at Child Focus. “The NAMI warning signs are specific and this is important.”
My previous article reviewed or discussed the first three NAMI warning signs here are the next three:
4. Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors.
“Teenagers are notorious for engaging in risky behavior. However, behavior can reach a level of risk that is concerning whether the person is a teen or an adult,” Stith said. “This would include alcohol and substance use and abuse. Binge drinking, using prescription or illegal drugs to get high, and even tobacco use in teens should raise concern. Other out-of-control behavior might include unsafe driving (e.g., texting or other distracted driving, driving under the influence, not wearing a seatbelt, excessive speed, drag racing), unsafe sexual behavior (e.g., multiple partners, not using protection), and violent behavior such as fighting, bullying, carrying a weapon, or engaging in self-injury.”
“I shut down in psychosis to the point that I hit myself continuously. If someone did not restrain me, I was in danger of giving myself a concussion,” Carol recalls.
5. Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing.
“Sudden overwhelming fear is debilitating and often called a panic attack. This type of fear often comes on suddenly and unpredictably, and can last for up to 30 minutes which can be exhausting,” Stith said. “Sometimes people mistake this type of fear as an actual life-threatening medical event.”
Pepper is Carol’s coping skill for anxiety.”Pepper alerts me about anxiety attacks and alerts me when they are coming so they won’t be as bad,” Carol explains.”She is everything to me.”
6. Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or weight gain.
“Society and the media has had a strong influence on people’s body image. We have been conditioned to believe that skinny is beautiful and this has resulted in many unhealthy habits that can lead to eating disorders,” Stith said. “Eating disorders can easily move from behaviors that are a choice to serious and sometimes fatal illnesses where the person develops a distorted body image and little ability to control their disordered eating behaviors. The earlier this type of issue is detected, the easier it is to treat.”
Like many teenage girls, Carol wrestled with body image issues.
Today, Carol has completed her GED and is a criminal justice major in college with a 4.0 GPA. Carol’s holistic support system includes not only doctors and medications, but also family, Pepper, and friends, etc. “NAMI is a great support system. I really enjoy speaking to others who may be struggling,” Carol said. Carol speaks for NAMI as a part of its In Our Own Voice (IOOV) and Ending the Silence (ETS) programs.
ETS is a program that educates middle and high school students, staff and parents about the warning signs of mental illness and suicide. The ETS for Families presentation is a 50-minute presentation that includes information about warnings signs, videos created by high school students, and information about how to get help. Contact NAMI for more details.
We will discuss the remaining warning signs in the last article. Together let’s end the silence. To find out more about what NAMI Southern Ohio has to offer, visit www.namisouthernohio.org or call NAMI Southern Ohio executive director Lance Cranmer at 740-851-4242. NAMI Southern Ohio is a contracted service provider of the Paint Valley ADAMH board.
Editor’s note — The subject’s name in this column has been changed to protect anonymity.
Danei Edelen is the founder for the NAMI Brown County affiliate, the fastest NAMI Ohio affiliate established in NAMI Ohio history. She is on the Marketing and Communications Advisory Committee (MAC) for NAMI. She educates high school and college students, police officers and businesses about mental health. She can be contacted at 513-436-0010 or [email protected]