A mother’s intuition is rarely wrong.
Brittney Jackson knew something wasn’t right with her son Hunter, even though health professionals told her he was just being a kid.
“When he was three, I was having to protect other children from him. He was throwing cars at them. He was trying to jump out of our car,” Jackson recalled.
Jackson and her husband were determined.
“We all opened up this conversation of something is not okay and we’re not going to act like it is,” she said.
The Jacksons tried every intervention they could, but eventually the answer came from Hunter’s 11-day stay at Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital.
“While it’s so scary for your child to be out of your home, that was the hardest thing we had ever done, he came home and we just knew that this is real,” Jackson said. “He has this diagnosis. It can be treated.”
Hunter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was just four-years-old.
What brought Jackson hope was the help of a family support specialist, another mom who had been there.
“We learned how to get our family on a plan, we learned how to talk to the school system and we learned how to talk to the doctors,” Jackson said.
Now Jackson is a certified family support specialist with Tennessee Voices for Children.
“One of our focuses is having parents with children with mental health needs sit across in the living room of another parent who has come to us for help and share that experience informally,” said Rikki Harris, CEO of Tennessee Voices for Children. “[They] share that in a way that reduces some of the stress the caregiver is experiencing. That really makes it feel more normal and helps them to see there is some hope down the road.”
For the last 30 years, Tennessee Voices for Children has championed public policy for children’s mental health and provided services for families.
“We train parents who have children with mental health needs to go into the field professionally and help other parents,” Harris said. “I’ve seen the training and met the parents who go through it, and not only do they gain so much for their own children, but they’re able to offer that back in their professional career.”
Jackson wants her son and other families to know navigating a mental health diagnosis doesn’t have to feel lonely or scary.
“We’re working really hard to let him know he doesn’t have to be embarrassed and that there are so many other families out there who are struggling with the same things we’re struggling with,” Jackson said.
Hunter is now 10-year-old. He’s having fun with family and friends and doing well in school — a reminder that mental health care matters.
If you think your child has mental health challenges and you don’t know what to do, Tennessee Voices for Children is a great place to start.
The organization provides services and family-to-family support. Plus, the staff can refer you to other agencies for additional help.