Monday, we had the pleasure of speaking with actress Patty Duke about her journey through mental illness. Ms. Duke will be speaking at our annual Breaking the Cycle Conference next Tuesday, but was willing to answer questions prior to that event for individuals who would not be able to attend. Below are highlights of the interview with her.

When asked about what prompted her to finally get help, she responded that she could no longer function the way that she had been. She knew that she had to do it for herself, her family, and for her children. She felt “compelled” to feel good. She went on to say that after she did get help, she had a great deal of “debris” to clean up. She said she has never used her mental illness as an excuse, and she still wanted to be held accountable for any hurt that she may have caused during her manic and depressive stages. She is very clear that mental illness can be dealt with, and that people need to get through the fear and denial that impedes them from seeking help. She feels that taking medication and going through talk therapy actually improved her creativity, and also improved her stability in terms of relationships. She knows she has the support of her husband of 25 years, as well as a network of children, grandchildren, and friends. She stresses that those who are living with mental illness should have the support of loved ones to help them through the initial fear and denial, as well as through the process of getting help.

Ms. Duke also wanted to convey that people living with mental illness are still going to be human. Even after they seek help, they are going to go through all of the normal human emotions that everyone has to face…fear, happiness, anxiety, sadness, joy. She commented that after getting help though, individuals will be able to have and express those emotions in a much more balanced fashion.

Again, we wish to thank Ms. Duke for speaking with us, and for speaking out about this very important issue.

Abuse and Children with Disabilities

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The prevalence of maltreatment involving children with disabilities is at a higher rate than maltreatment of children without special needs. The National Research Council reports the range from 22% to as high as 70 percent. The perpetrators, as in most maltreatment cases, are often people who know the victim. Family members, caregivers, and any ancillary professionals might be the person perpetrating the abuse.

A child whose disability includes communication difficulties can be at particular risk, since that child may not be able to report abuse or neglect. Other children may not report because they do not understand what abuse or neglect is.

Prevent Child Abuse Indiana promotes initiatives that can help prevent these abuses from ever happening in the first place.

Here are some thoughts:

*If you are a parent or caregiver of a child with a disability, seek assistance! There are resources and individuals who can assist you. There are support groups and internet supports available to you. Here in Indiana, you can always call 1-800-CHILDREN, or the 211 social service helpline to access those groups.

*If you are a parent or caregiver, know that YOU DESERVE BREAKS! So you might need to gather a respite group of individuals who can assist you with those well deserved breaks! Taking care of yourself is JUST AS IMPORTANT as caring for someone else!

*If you are a parent or caregiver, besides just regular “fun” breaks, you may need someone to talk to, like a professional, clergy, family member or friend.

*Encourage those who either work with or educate your child to use the “open door” policy. This means being aware that there are very few places that one- on -one time needs to be in a private space. Doors can be open during most sessions. Parents/caregivers can be close by without interfering with therapy or educational activities.

*Children with disabilities can be educated about the risks of abuse, and about ownership of their bodies. Basic sexuality education, like knowing the names of their body parts, and that they can choose to give others’ permission or to deny permission to touch their bodies, might be explained in understandable ways. (This can be difficult, as doctors , nurses and therapists may need to give hurtful touches that no one likes, but might be necessary. They too can still ask permission. Parents and caregivers may be there to support the child.) Still, it is important to seek permission so that children learn ownership of THEIR BODIES!

*Lastly, everyone can learn about the signs of abuse and neglect. Trainings and continuing education for those with disabilities, their families, legal professionals, judges, prosecutors, medical professionals, victim advocacy centers, Guardians ad Litem, public defenders and police officers are a vital part of continuing education. The signs are not different than for other children. People’s attitudes about children with disabilities might want to attribute a change in their behavior on the disability, and deny the possibility of abuse or neglect. Training and an open mind could change this thinking.

In Indiana, it is everyone’s responsibility to watch out for ALL children. Let’s keep Indiana a safe place to raise all of them!