The Dark World of Mental Illness and our Children

On the outside, they seem like your average kid. But friends, cell phones and trendy clothes can be deceiving.

Sometimes, it's what you don't see. A world of darkness and fear, cleverly disguised on the inside. It's called mental illness, but it has so many faces.

The world of mental illness is one many of our children live in. Sometimes in secret, sometimes in plain sight.

The story of one little girl, we'll call her Valerie, is shocking.

"I was seven at first," said Valerie. "Sometimes, I'd have things thrown at me."

Valerie said she was bullied at school from a young age.

"I tried committing suicide several times," said Valerie.

Valerie's mother said she watched helplessly as her daughter slipped away.

"They sent her to an alternative school, where she was bullied three times worse," said Valerie's mother. "You know, she just wasn't her. The spark wasn't there. And that's when I knew we were in trouble."

Valerie said the bullying soon began to take its toll.

"Then you'd start to question whether you're normal or not, because people would start to question you and say that you're not normal, and you should be more like them," said Valerie.

Soon, Valerie developed an alternative way of dealing with the problem.

"I created friends in my head," said Valerie. "So I could feel like I belonged somewhere."

In Valerie's imaginary world, she would rule as queen in a land free from harm.

"Angels would come to my defense," said Valerie.

To Valerie, the world she created became so real, she'd talk out loud to her imaginary characters.

"This all sounds crazy, but this is what happens when you make someone feel so unwelcome that they have to create a world like that," said Valerie.

Valerie's mother knew she had to do something.

"And I think one of the hardest things for a parent is to say, this is beyond what I know. And I need to get help for my child," said Valerie's mother.

For Valerie, that help would come from Family and Children's Services in Tulsa. Together with a therapist, Valerie has made huge strides over the years.

"We're not out of the woods yet, but we're definitely back on the path," said Valerie's mother.

But there are many children in our area like Valerie. Some with even more severe mental issues. Issues that cannot be helped with therapy alone.

"We're talking about Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar and psychosis," said Whitney Downie, a licensed social worker and chief program officer at Family and Children's Services.

Downie said sometimes, the problems don't go away.

"We need to talk to the psychiatrists, we need to have some nursing staff around. We need to watch them and make sure they're being watched 24, 7 for a little bit," said Downie.

For these children, there is help. Psychiatric hospitals like Shadow Mountain and Parkside in Tulsa. But because of a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists and licensed therapists for children like Valerie, the chance some children could face mental illness with no help is great.

"It's terrible, and the parents don't know what's going on with you," said Valerie.

For Valerie, Family and Children's Services was a light in that dark, cold world.

Fighting what seems like an uphill battle, therapists, along with teams of experts with Family and Children's Services do what they can to be that light for as many children as they can.

"Wherever there are clients who are suffering, we are pretty much right there," said Downie.

Help that can't come soon enough for children fighting those demons. Kids who hope to see a day with no secrets, no fear, just a little happiness, hope, and that sweet bliss known as an average life.

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