When someone you love is diagnosed with a mental illness (major depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD, OCD) something very ugly tends to rear its head. I call it the two-headed monster of stigma and shame. It finds life from those who don’t understand because they’re either uninformed or misinformed. When it’s directed at your son or daughter the hurt runs deep. You feel protective. Defensive. But maybe you felt this way toward them yourself.
You need to hear these things:
- Don’t believe your child’s value in this world is diminished because of their mental illness.
- Refuse to accept embarrassment from those who have stereotypes – they may not even realize they have them.
- Resist isolating because it would be less painful. In the long run withdrawing will hurt you even more.
- Instead, affirm your child’s worth regardless of their diagnosis. They are no less of a person.
- Accept that you have no control over what others think. Don’t give them that kind of power over you.
- Choose to build a supportive community. We need each other. We can’t do this alone.
How can we lessen the stigma and shame society associates with mental illness?
Here are two suggestions:
1. Education and information. Knowledge corrects misconceptions, leads to increased understanding, lessens fear and prejudice, creating greater compassion and empathy. This was my experience. After I attended NAMI’s Family to Family class I could finally understand better what my daughter was going through. The result was that I had more compassion and realistic expectations. Be sure to check out NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Ilness – nami.org) for resources and information.
2. Honest and open dialogue. When we hear empowering stories it’s powerful. It makes a difference. It reduces anxiety and apprehension on the part of those who were previously uninformed. When we have no experience with something, we tend to shy away from it and fear it. After all it’s uncomfortable. We feel awkward, unsure of ourselves. Of what to expect. Of what to do and how to respond appropriately.
Authentic sharing helps the general public – family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors – be less likely to treat those living with mental illness with attitudes of prejudice. As we share our stories, each can be “a little victory as we break through the stigma”. That quote is from the book, Behind the Wall by Mary Widdifield and Elin Widdifield. It’s a collection of stories of mental illness as told by parents. It sounds like a must have for my summer reading list.
The stigma attached to mental illness can be reduced when we do our part to learn all we can, talk about our experiences, and encourage others to do the same. Together we can make a difference. We can create a more hopeful, welcoming world for those who struggle with mental illness.
This Bible verse encourages me:
“I am always with you; you take hold of my right hand.” (Psalm 73:23 NASB)