Youth and Mental Illness Stigma
We all know that being a youth can be a rewarding journey with growth and plenty to learn, however, it can also be a very difficult and confusing time. It can mean being a bully or being the brunt of bullying at school and it can also spell doom and gloom for many youth that feel they do not fit in due to having a mental illness. Through these difficult times, can you imagine also having to deal with a mental health condition, which brings on mental health stigma?
Youth Need our Support – Not Stigma
I have worked with many youth over the years in the form of support groups and engaging them in classroom presentations. Their problems are unique compared to adults as they have to deal with school, peer pressure and parental expectation. I have seen the most active and bright-eyed youth lose their drive by being fired from their job, unable to graduate high school and even dropping out of University. Many have partners and upon being diagnosed, they often lose them too.
As I listen to youth and engage them in conversation there are many recurring themes that echo true for so many. It is painful when love is lost, when dreams are shattered and, most especially, when life spirals out of control. I notice they often feel lost and have nobody to depend on as I have seen parents plagued by stigma who tell their children to stop acting out and feeling sorry for themselves. Many parents do not accept the fact that their child has a mental illness and shy away from involving themselves in psychiatrist appointments. I have even seen parents prohibit their kids from accessing mental health resources in the community, and when a youth tells me this at a classroom presentation, it breaks my heart.
Support for Stigmatized Youth with a Mental Illness
I have heard so many youth stories over the years and quite often the stigma perpetuated in their lives is actually from their own friendship circles. Even youth have preconceived ideas about mental illness and many have provided in feedback to my presentations that they have previously been judgmental and negative toward people who have a mental illness. If your friends are not supportive, then it makes life a lot more difficult.
If you are a youth and you are wondering how to support your friend then consider the following:
- Educate yourself on the general topic of mental illness and especially on the specific illness that your friend is experiencing.
- Inform your friendship circle with the knowledge you have learned as there are likely others that just don’t get it. Your information may make all the difference to your friend that is struggling.
- You are a valuable resource for your struggling friend and you can attend a support group or doctor’s appointment with them.
- Just plain listen to them and yes they may sound like a broken record, but their life is difficult and they need to express themselves. You don’t need to have all the answers, or any of them for that matter, but a listening ear goes a long way.
- Ensure your boundaries are respected and respect theirs. If you feel that things are heading in the wrong direction or are becoming abusive, then do not be afraid to take a few steps back and tell your friend that you need a breather for a bit to help you process all that is happening.
Mental illness is hard, it can be one of the most difficult things that a person will face in their lives and, without support, it can be a never ending battle to recover. I always ask myself the old cliché, “What if I were in that person’s shoes? How would I want to be treated and what would I need?”
Paquette, A. (2014, November 6). Youth and Mental Illness Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2014/11/youth-and-mental-illness-stigma
Author: Andrea Paquette
Great article. Sadly a lot of mental illness in teens tend to overshadow their lives.
Thank you Dr. Ferati, very insightful as always.
After reading this affecting article, my general impression is resumptived on empathy, as the most humane inter-personal relationship. So, it ought to improve the ability to walk with friend's shoes, in order to help him/her. Yours five recommendations in this direction are welcomed and helpful, as well. But in real life, where the stigma and many others misunderstandings on mental disorders plagued current psychiatric treatment of mental illnesses, the issue become more difficult. By me, as clinical psychiatrist, it should promote in functional manner the epochal possibilities of up to date psychiatric care system on successful treatment of psychiatric entities. The first step in this intention would be the substantial psycho-education of community on principal principles of diligence to mental health, as prerequisite of global welfare.