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What Kids Say About Mental Illness

"I was obsessing on ghosts and black holes, I was seeing delusions. They were following me. No one believed me."

Wolf is 17 and has been diagnosed as schizo-affective, autism spectrum, and NOS (not otherwise specified).
Sadie is 9, and has never been diagnosed as anything.
Mike is 10 and "just took a whole bunch of testing, and I have ADD at least."
Angel is 12 and says she is "going to get tested in about two months."

VICE: Do you think you're mentally ill?
Wolf: I'm getting to the point where I'm not.

How did you find out that you were ill, back when you were?
Everybody was telling me about it.


And did you believe them?
Eventually I believed them, sometimes. Sometimes other little kids seemed to see what I saw too, or said they did, so I thought it was OK. But I would say to my sister, "Hey, do you see that ghost over there?" and she thought it was a game. But I was taking it seriously.

You would always say you felt like aliens were watching you. What did that feel like?
Just another person watching me.

How did you know it was an alien?
I had a lot of problems back then, so it could have been a person. Or it really was an alien, I don't know. There was a nurse… he wasn't doing anything that other people were doing. When other people weren't around, he was mean, acting like an alien. So I thought maybe there was an alien inside him making him do that to me.

Who decides what is real and what is mentally ill?
Policemen, moms, and therapists.

Where do they get their authority?
Maybe they had some bad things happen to them in their past and now they want to help the mentally ill out of it.

What should be done for the mentally ill, to help?

It's in them. They have to realize it and stop it, like go to a doctor or hospital. When they want to stop it, they'll know what to do.

You think people have a choice as to how they think and feel?
Yeah. They have to choose it inside, to get better. And then after they get better, it's their choice if they want to get sick again or not. That's what a person we know did, whose name I won't say.


I think you're talking about addiction now, but it's all words – addiction, mental illness… there's no one right opinion or idea about what it is or what to do about it. But for you, becoming sane was a choice?
Mm hm.

Do you miss anything from the time when you were mentally ill, and going to the mental hospital?
No. I was scared all the time. I was obsessing on ghosts and black holes, I was seeing delusions. They were following me. No one believed me.

How do you define mental illness, Sadie?
Sadie: When people get too angry when something bad happens–not just bad sportsmanship, but dangerously angry. Or they get too sad when something sad happens. Or so happy when they're happy that it's scary.

Do you know anyone mentally ill?
Mm hm. My brother.

How do you know he's mentally ill?
Usually if you tell him he shouldn't do something, he doesn't think there's a reason for not doing it; he just thinks people are mean. And when he gets annoyed by you, he wouldn't do what annoyed people usually do. He gets really worked up. When he was little, he hit teachers. He believes in puffballs. They're dust bunnies, but he thought they were little aliens and he named one Zeb. He would yell at me if I accidentally walked on one; he sounded really scared for the puffball, like it was in pain. Or if I said something about puffballs, he would say, "No, puffballs don't do that." If somebody talked bad about your religion, it's normal if you get angry. Wolf gets angry like that if you talk bad about his puffballs, like if I say they're not real. If you're Christian, that's normal, because they all believe in this one invisible thing, but Wolf believes in all kinds of invisible things, not just puffballs. Also, he makes up his own things. At church, everybody agrees about the one thing.


Do you ever feel scared of your brother?
No. I know he wouldn't ever try to hurt me, and if he did… he's not really that strong.

Mike and Angel, how can you tell if someone's mentally ill?
Mike: You see them trying to shove oatmeal into their eye. Or taking 20 pills a second. My stepmom takes about 20 pills a day. She's crazy.

Angel: Probably my entire family is. Actually, I don't think anyone is entirely sane. Or entirely insane. I think it's just in addition to personality. It's just who they are.

What does getting diagnosed with ADD mean, compared to someone who doesn't have it?
Mike: Not much. Just like two pills of Adderall a day.

Do you think you pay more attention or less attention than the average person?
A different kind. I only pay attention to things I'm actually interested in.

What should be done for the mentally ill?
Either put them in a box and shoot them into outer space, or shoot them full of pills.

Angel: It's entirely their choice, what to do. Medication or self-medicate or just do nothing. If everybody got treatment until we were all the same, people would concentrate and behave and be productive and not stray off and there would be a lot less creativity in the world.