From Stigma to Solution

Changing the Stigma of Mental Health
Mention that your child is going into the hospital for a heart condition or cancer treatment and a world of questions, concern, and sympathy opens up.

Mention your child is going into the hospital for psychiatric treatment and a world of silence and judgement ensues.

In Stephen P. Hinshaw’s Another Kind of Madness: A Journey Through the Stigma and Hope of Mental Illness, he talks about the need to de-stigmatize mental illness.  He references a time when his father’s own psychiatrist (!) urged the family to keep the illness from his children for fear it would destroy them.

Sometimes it’s the person themselves suffering from a mental health condition that is the one that feels the need to stay silent. Doreen Sutherland recently published her struggles with bipolar and the ways in which she helped contribute to the stigma.  Now struggling with cancer and receiving an outpouring of support she ironically points out how her bipolar, which has the same mortality rate as the kind of cancer she has, was treated in a completely different manner.

Some progress has been made, but there’s still a stigma associated with mental health that prevents us from focusing on serious solutions.

So, how do you change it?

Maybe it starts by viewing an illness in the brain the same way we view an illness in our kidney or bones.

Maybe it starts with just talking about it more.  I agree with Hinsaw’s assessment that the more stories and experiences we are exposed to about any topic tends to normalize it. And once you begin talking the solutions will come.

If you have a friend or family member struggling with mental illness, think about how you’d respond if their health was being affected by heart disease or a leg injury.  The perspective changes considerably.  It deserves the same sympathy, support, and consideration.

Glenn Close got it right –  “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation, about illnesses that affect not only individuals but their families as well.”

Writing is the Easy Part

Writing is the Easy Part


Editing is not my favorite part.  Slow, tedious, and an opportunity to really second guess what you wrote during that first round.  I’m wondering if I was drunk when I wrote parts of it (?!) and I’m grateful for the opportunity to fix that mess!

But then there are parts I know I got right because those chapters bring back vivid memories that make me feel like I’m right back in the thick of it.  I’m mentally tired after editing those chapters because it’s exhausting reliving what was a very stressful time in our lives. I think it’s clear in my day-to-day accounts how chaotic it was but I don’t really address in the book about the isolation we felt. We couldn’t adequately explain to anyone what was going on and no one really understood what we were dealing with.  I read an article recently referring to childhood mental illness as the “no casserole” illness that hit the nail on the head.  If your child has cancer or is born with a physical defect it’s automatic for others to sympathize and offer support (as they should!) but when your kiddo has a mental illness there seems to be more of a blame game and an unspoken rule not to address it.  In our case they would have had to bring casseroles for a very long time (ha!) since our drama went on for years until we found a manageable solution and adequate treatment for him.

For anyone struggling day-to-day with children experiencing symptoms of mental illness there is a great support group on Facebook Oppositional Defiant Disorder – O.D.D. that is a good reminder you are not alone.  I see daily posts on this page of people at the end of their rope ready to give up and just plain worn out from trying to manage the chaos.  It helps to read those posts on days when you can’t imagine anyone else is dealing with the same issues.

Ok, enough procrastinating on my part.  Back.To.Editing!  Thank goodness for the Creative PENN and Writers Digest  – both great resources as I slog through this new publishing adventure. Great insights and tools. Let me in the comments if you have a good resource for new authors, editing, or just surviving the publishing process.