She wrote the book for challenged parents
Andrea Berryman Childreth has a message for parents struggling to cope with a child's mental illness.
"You're not alone. There are thousands upon thousands of other families that are going through this. It's just no one talks about it," she said.
The Medford mom and business owner has released a new book called "On the Edge: Help & Hope for Parenting Children with Mental Illness."
The practical how-to guide is based on years of research and experience coping with her daughter Chloe's mental illness. Chloe deals with bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a learning disorder and an auditory processing disorder.
Berryman Childreth, the owner of a Medford marketing firm, isn’t shy about telling people she herself struggled with anxiety, depression and bulimia as a young woman. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 34.
Although chronic or short-term mental illness will affect an estimated one in five Americans, Berryman Childreth said there is still social stigma and shame attached to mental health issues.
People are embarrassed to seek treatment, and when they do, the resources and support available to treat mental illness lags far behind those devoted to physical health care.
Berryman Childreth said that doesn’t make sense, especially considering biological and environmental factors influence both mental and physical health.
She said a colleague’s son has long suffered from schizophrenia, a chronic illness characterized by hallucinations, delusions and difficulty thinking clearly. The family has struggled to get adequate care for him.
But when the colleague developed a brain tumor, the whole health care system — including doctors, nurses, Oregon Health & Science University and her insurance company — kicked into overdrive to help her defeat the tumor. She continues to get excellent follow-up care.
Berryman Childreth said the difference in treatment for the brain tumor versus schizophrenia was striking.
“This is the same organ in your body — your brain,” she said.
In her book, Berryman Childreth walks parents through common mental illnesses, treatment options and navigating health care, school and criminal justice systems.
Too often, she said, people with mental illness end up in jails and prisons. Not enough resources are invested up-front to help people manage their mental illness and live stable, productive lives.
Berryman Childreth said parents often ask her how they can distinguish between normal misbehavior, tantrums or moodiness that many children exhibit.
When a child is unable to handle the school environment, and a parent’s ability to work is compromised and family life is disrupted, it’s probably time to seek professional help from a psychiatrist, she said.
But mental illness — especially anxiety, depression and eating disorders — may have subtle warning signs, as well. Berryman Childreth offers advice in her book for detecting those often-undiagnosed conditions.
She notes that if a child thinks something is wrong and asks for help, parents should take the child’s concern seriously.
With more kids and teens than ever using social media and glued to their phones, Berryman Childreth cautions all parents to be aware of the link between screen time and increasing rates of anxiety and depression among youth.
“Social media is a nightmare really not only for children who are struggling with mental illness, but for children across the board,” she said.
Young people who overuse social media often don’t develop interpersonal skills and deep friendships. They are also missing out on important social cues, including body language.
Berryman Childreth describes in the book how social media became a minefield for her daughter, who has trouble navigating relationships and interpreting people’s reactions even in real life.
In addition to helping families, Berryman Childreth wants to use her book to raise awareness among community leaders and Oregon legislators about the need for a stronger mental health system and support services.
“I hear from families regularly who are floundering trying to navigate the schools, their health insurance and treatment options, all while attempting to take care of a mentally ill child and go about their lives,” she said.
Above all, Berryman Childreth wants families and the public to know there is no easy cure for mental health problems, but mental illness can be managed with the right care.
She said her daughter Chloe is doing well, putting her love of horses into action by working on a White City ranch. After a stay in residential treatment and continuing care, Chloe is grounded and self-confident.
“She’s doing great,” Berryman Childreth said.
“On the Edge: Help & Hope for Parenting Children with Mental Illness” is available in print or as an ebook through www.amazon.com.