I watched a bit of the movie “The Hours” as I folded laundry yesterday morning. I don’t always like her, but Nicole Kidman is masterful here in her role as Virginia Woolf.
Especially so in the scene at the train station, where she delivers a ‘closing argument’ in defense of her madness. She implores her husband Leonard to take her back to London: “I choose not the suffocating anesthetic of the suburbs, but the violent jolt of the Capital, that is my choice. [If] it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death.” What parent hasn’t thought something similar, after the fiftieth shuttle to or from a birthday party!
Woolf’s argument is done convincingly, a testament to her skill with words. Leonard hangs his head in resignation. He knows she — or rather, her illness — will have the last word. Today we give Madness many names; depression, anxiety, addiction, bi-polar and borderline personality disorder, among others. It is easy to distance ourselves from Madness with a capital ‘M’, and romanticize it in movies and TV, but it has very real consequences for people, everyday — none of them romantic. Madness is a mistress that gets between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between people and the rest of the world, and their ability to live in it.
While the movie meditated on the mental health of mothers I couldn’t help but think of the kids I know who struggle with various forms of emotional problems themselves, from anxiety to depression.
When our children are small we focus on their physical well-being. Consequences are immediate and obvious—food that is too hot for their little mouths, a missed nap that results in a late afternoon meltdown. But as our children grow so grows their emotional complexity and parents must fight to keep up. Advice, solicited and not, on how to best determine if their child’s development is in “the normal range” seems to dry up just when it’s needed more than ever. Coincidentally, marketing to parents of children from ages 0 to 5 is double to triple of that for parents with kids ages 7 and up. The message seems to be that once your kid hits 3rd grade, mom and dad, you’re on your own.
These forms of madness, small ‘m’, can affect children too, some starting as early as pre-school. The National Institute of Health reports that anxiety disorders affect one in eight children and can create problems in school performance, social development, and in their long-term quality of life.
But there is good news, too.
There is a growing awareness that children can suffer from emotional problems just like adults. Diagnosis and treatment are getting better and better. Pediatricians, schools, all those who work with children are getting better at recognizing emotional disorders in kids.
The other good news is that modern therapy is real and helpful and abundant. It comes in as many forms as madness does. Today, there is no limit to the amount of help a parent can find to assist their child in achieving and maintaining good mental and emotional health. Naming your son or daughter’s problem is the first step; a therapist or doctor can help you take it, and then help you take the next step, to decide what kinds of treatment — also abundant — are best for your child and your entire family.
A friend and I were comparing notes and we decided to picture that Help like a wide open field, with hundreds of people in it — people who love our children and already know them, plus dozens of wise and kind strangers — all with their hands outstretched, ready to help.
This Thursday’s class in the Modern Village series, The Anxious Child (NYC, Oct 18, 7-9pm), will be our first to address the importance of emotional and mental health in parents and children. (In the Spring we’ll present a class called The Best Habits of Emotionally Healthy Families. ) On Thursday Dr. Anne Marie Albano will discuss the unique needs of children with anxiety disorders, including how to first identify normal levels from disruptive levels of anxiety in your child.
It’s our job to guide our children through life, but no parent should try to diagnose or manage their child’s emotional issues alone.
If this is a topic that affects your family, I urge you to come. Tickets are still available. I hope to see you there.
— Lisa Duggan
Dr. Anne Marie Albano is associate professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry within the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders. She devotes her career to the study and treatment of anxiety and mood disorders in children, adolescents, and young adults.