Talking to Children About Mental Illness Stigma Is Important
In the first part of this three-part blog, I wrote about what stigma can look like for children and how it affects them, as well as your first step as a parent or guardian to a child in this situation, which is to make sure you are not inadvertently stigmatizing your child. In this part, let’s take a look at ways you can help your child or children understand the mental illness, stigma, and self-stigma.
Explain to Children What Mental Illness Stigma Is
Depending on your child’s age, finding the right words to explain mental illness stigma could be tricky. Use as many resources as you can to make sure you understand mental illness stigma and then try to break it down for a child. Stigma can be complicated to understand, even for adults, but knowing what it's integral to coping with it no matter your age because you then can better understand why it exists and what you can do about it (Discussing Mental Health Stigma With Children Is Important).
Help Children Cope With Mental Illness Self-Stigma
This might suck for a parent to hear, but there can be a lot of internalized negativity when dealing with mental illness. We, unfortunately, buy into the idea that we're broken or messed up, even if no one else has ever told us we are (The Cost of Self-Stigma). Especially if we’ve never spoken or heard about mental illness, we can feel alone and like we’re the only ones in the world who are dealing with whatever we’re going through.
Opening up the dialogue about mental illness and educating both yourself and your child about it (at whatever level they are) is an important factor in combating self-stigma. Personally speaking, knowing what I’m dealing with has made coping with it so much easier because I can understand the mechanics of it and I know it’s not my fault. Of course, not all children are going to be the same, so you may need to work to figure out what helps your child best understand mental illness stigma. Consult a counselor if you need some extra help.
Help Children See that Mental Illness Stigma Comes from Ignorance
Again, this can be tricky, but I think the important part is to explain to children that stigma doesn’t have anything to do with them, but rather someone else’s lack of knowledge, compassion, or both.
Please don’t fall into the “they’re just jealous of you” rhetoric, because that isn’t always the case and is ultimately inconsequential. Whether people are jealous or not, if they’re stigmatizing people over their mental illness, they probably have very little knowledge as to what they’re talking about and probably lack compassion (Mental Health Stigma: Prejudice and Discrimination).
In the third installment of this blog, I will discuss what you can do as a parent if you see your child being stigmatized because of his or her mental illness and how to help him or her form a support system.
Barton, L. (2017, July 3). Talking to Children About Mental Illness Stigma Is Important, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2017/07/help-your-child-understand-mental-illness-stigma
Author: Laura Barton
Thank you so much for your comment and kind words! I'm thrilled to hear that you've opened up that dialogue with your own children and I hope that should they feel their mental health is declining they open up to you. You're right about mental health needing to be more prevelant in the school system; hopefully we'll get there one day!
Thank you again.