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.”

Pay Now, or Pay Later

Pay Now, or Pay Later

Now or Later

I’ve been editing a chapter this week about a year when our son’s behavior was really spinning out of control.  Violent behavior, police interactions, juvenile detention, med changes, doctor changes  – and he was only nine.  It was a lot to manage.

I was able to do it because I had good health, a stable job, family support, and I’m intuitive about searching out solutions.  If you are lacking in even one of these things, I cannot imagine how you would manage the challenge of accessing the right resources for your child, finding a doctor, getting them to appointments, and managing their medications.

During the years our son was in self contained classrooms I witnessed not only the other children struggling but also their parents and the teachers.  The parents often didn’t know where to start looking for help and the teachers were overwhelmed managing behavior issues in the classroom while trying to teach.  Everyone limps through the school year managing each crisis as it pops up through a combination of suspensions, behavior management, and modifications to their educational setting.

You might be able to push them through to graduation but it’s not going to end well if the problems have not been addressed and managed early on. When you have extreme behavior issues at school it can lead to suspension.  When you have extreme behavioral issues as an adult it can lead to arrest and placement in a system not setup to manage mental health.  We all pay for that.

Schools need to be more proactive in managing support by developing a network of mental health resources in the community they can steer parents to.  Walk them through the options.  Provide an advocate.  Connect them with other parents facing the same issues.  Maybe something like the “emergency care hubs” Ohio is trying to setup  or classes like NAMI Southeastern Arizona is offering that teach effective skills and coping methods – what great resources!

The alternative is muddling along the way we have and pushing children through the system only to come out with a bigger problem on the other end.