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.
Surviving Mental Health Stigma
When I was a child dealing with mental health stigma, I didn't really know what it was that set me apart. As a young adult, I have a better perspective on the mental health stigma your child faces. Although I’m not a parent or guardian of a child facing mental health stigma, I have a clear memory of how stigma affected me as a child. Plus, I've seen what my parents have gone through as I lived with mental illness at a young age. I also read posts and hear from parents and guardians who have children that suffer or live with mental health problems and it's heartbreaking to witness as they grapple with trying to help their child and feeling powerless to do so. So when I can, I try to help. I hope some of the tips that follow are ones you find helpful as you navigate your child’s mental illness and the potential mental health stigma your child can face.
Playing the what-if game isn’t always the greatest of ideas, especially for those of us with mental illnesses that cause us to get stuck in the what-if mindset. But humor me for a second (or rather this post) because while playing the what-if game can be detrimental, I think there is some good to it sometimes and in this case, I think it’s one of those times. What if mental illness stigma never goes away? What then?
Coping with a breakup after telling someone you love, whether it be a friend, family member, or romantic partner, that you have a mental illness is never easy. The scariest time is right before I tell anyone about my mental illnesses. It is always thoughts like “What if they think less of me?”, “What if they suddenly don’t want to be around me anymore?”, “They're going to see me as a burden.” that make me anxious. You could probably name many other anxious thoughts and I could say I thought them, too. Ultimately, these fears of a breakup are based on mental health stigma, and coping with a breakup due to mental health stigma may be the most heartbreaking of all.
Part of the romanticism of mental illnesses is that someone who is mentally ill can be cured by love or that someone can be a cure for someone else's mental illness. We see this in media and it seeps into real life to the point that people don’t understand why we can’t stop being depressed or anxious for them (How to Cope With a Loved One's Mental Illness). What people need to realize is although being loved can make dealing with mental illness easier, love does not cure mental illness.
Let's face it, mental illness symptoms can make communication difficult. When it comes to mental illness, a lot of people seem to have it in their heads that those who have, and suffer from, mental illness are strictly tragic figures. When people share their stories of overcoming the sad brokenness their mental illness has brought them, we champion them and hold them in high regard. And we should, but not all people with mental illnesses fit that narrative. We need to communicate what mental illness really is.
“Man up” is some of the most unhelpful, stigmatizing advice a person can give to a man with mental illness. Recently, Piers Morgan has come under fire for questioning a statistic that says two-thirds of Britain’s population has experienced mental illness in their lifetime (Mental Health Statistics and Facts). The problem wasn’t necessarily that he was questioning the statistic, but his statement of Britain needing to “man up.” When this is applied to mental illness, "man up" just increased mental health stigma.
Keeping a journal is a powerful way to make yourself feel better and fight mental health stigma. Most Psychiatrists and counselors will agree that there are many reasons why you should keep a journal. One of them is that keeping a journal allows you a safe place where mental health stigma doesn't exist and can't harm you (23 Journal Prompts to Improve Self-Esteem).
Many xon't know this, but a mental health community can reduce the impact of stigma. One thing that mental illness is really good at is making a person feel isolated and alone, which is a perfect way for stigma and self-stigma to thrive. There are a number of ways to combat that, such as reading more about the illness to learn the facts versus the fiction. But another way to effectively combat whatever sort of stigma comes along is to immerse oneself in a mental health community to reduce the impact of stigma and connect with others who have similar experiences.
There are many ways that fitness can help you fight mental health stigma. One of the ways people form stigmatizing beliefs about those with mental health issues is that they think they are lazy for not working or engaging in society. Mental health stigma makes people believe these myths, but myths can be busted by more individuals who have a mental illness getting healthy exercise and improving their fitness levels.