Mental health advocates are in Washington, D.C. Thursday to mark Children's Mental Health Awareness Day. So what does the return of the Broadway show "Wicked" to Omaha's Orpheum Theater got to do with it?
The story, in part, is about a parent's misunderstanding and unwillingness to accept his own daughter. It's a response professionals say often stands in the way of getting children the mental health treatment they need.
“It's very important to talk about these issues,” says Children’s Behavioral Health Director Michal Vance. “Often times, teens are intimidated. They're worried parents are going to be mad or that they're going to be punished or taken away and if it's done in a very caring, comfortable environment that the teens have been in before, they're often more open to reaching out this way."
Vance is referring to the patient health questionnaire, which is becoming more common place in regular pediatrician appointments. Its nine questions help physicians and parents gauge a child's mental health. He says parents are often surprised to hear how their kids respond, driving home the need for better conversations at home.
“It's important for other people to know it's okay, it's okay to talk about mental health, it's nothing to be embarrassed about,” says mom Jen Genzler. "We just want what's best for our kids and talking about it and educating other people is the best way to do that."
Two of Genzler's children have a diagnosed mental illness ranging from ADHD to bipolar. She says if it weren't for early intervention, consistent care and trained coping techniques, one of her sons might likely be detained. The boy's grandmother says she struggled to accept their diagnosis initially, but now speaks out to help other families get past the denial and social stigma.
“It's not the parents, it's an illness, but most parents will tell you they feel guilty,” says grandmother Mary Thunker. “They've been made to feel guilty, which is why they don't reach out for help, which is why they don't come to a support group because they're fearful of being judged."
A psychologist tells WOWT 6 News that when it comes to mental health conversations, it's often the kids, particularly teenagers, who are fearful of being judged by their parents.
Meanwhile, the Tony Award-winning musical serves as the backdrop for bullying awareness. The very name “Wicked” is based on perceptions, fear and misunderstanding. The main character Elphaba, the witch with green skin, is described as a smart outcast with sympathy for the underdog. Her nemesis Glinda is seen as a stereotypical beauty, popular and vulnerable. Those traits give Glinda great power and influence among her peers. Because the two do not initially understand each other, they're both judgmental and unkind, behaviors Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch hopes teens recognize as detrimental.
"These are some of the types of actions you can stop and you can make a big difference in your school and your community and even just your small group of friends. So it doesn't just have to be hey, I'm going to go out and change the world. Well, maybe I can just change my group of friends and the people I interact with every day and become a leader within that group."
Crouch will speak to about 270 students at an anti-bullying summit Thursday in Omaha, organized by the Anti-Defamation League. Crouch is very candid about the fact that he was once a bully. Is it possible for a child to grow up free from bullying? He doesn't think so, but says we can change how we respond to it. The principles in particular need to be proactive and held accountable.