16714079_sMeet “Sadie,” a vibrant and creative young girl with a vivid imagination who loved to dance, dabble in art, and engage others in extensive conversation, even as a toddler. Like most kids her age, Sadie had a hard time paying attention and sitting still. But when a preschool teacher approached Sadie’s mother, Dorothy O’Donnell and told her she might want to have Sadie evaluated for ADHD, O’Donnell was infuriated. How could a 3-year old possibly have ADHD?

O’Donnell’s pediatrician also dismissed the diagnosis, saying that all children are unruly and that Sadie would mature at her own pace. But as time wore on and O’Donnell continued to get calls from teachers about her daughter’s erratic behavior, she thought it might be best to get a second opinion.

As O’Donnell puts it in a recent article featured at GreatSchools.org, school can be a reality check for parents whose children are affected by mental illness. Within the family it may be easy to dismiss unusual behavior, but in school, all of a sudden your child is viewed through new sets of eyes – it may be only then that things come clearly into focus.

In Sadie’s case, there were bouts of energy that drew people to her bubbly personality, but then were also extreme fits of rage. She was known to be overly silly and blurt out inappropriate remarks. She’d also threatened to hurt herself and others when things didn’t go her way. Sadie also confessed to counselors that she regularly felt sad and that she had no friends. She considered herself a bad person and stopped wanting to go to school because she didn’t see herself as very smart.

Further evaluations revealed that Sadie had early-onset bipolar disorder, a mental illness that had run in both O’Donnell’s and her husband’s families. But even armed with the knowledge that such disorders are often genetic, O’Donnell wasn’t ready to accept that her daughter might be affected.

Like most parents, after hearing horror stories O’Donnell fought the idea of medication. But when her daughter looked up at her one night and told her that she didn’t want to live anymore, O’Donnell knew that she had to try something different. Just like the journey of parenthood, treating Sadie’s mental illness would involve trial and error to find the right path.

If you suspect your child might be affected by a mental illness, it’s important to seek help early. The fact is that many mental disorders are highly manageable with the right forms of treatment. Family Guidance Center can help you develop a plan that works for your family and can walk you through the process – one step at a time.