Helping Families Overcome Stigma

Posted on June 24, 2016

Hannah Stanley (host):
So with all the awareness campaigns and discussion on the media, why is there still a stigma surrounding mental health issues?

Lauren Nichols:
Mental health stigma is a really complicated topic. You have lots of larger systemic variables that play into that, which is often referred to as social stigma. When we’re looking at families and adolescents with mental health illnesses, there are additional layers that play into that. Often time, parents are worried about how their child will be perceived, particularly by peers or teachers. So you end up having a complex intersection.

So, we should encourage people to live more openly to reduce the stigma, because mental health illnesses are more common than you think.

Yes, what we do know is that 1 in 5 adolescents in particular have a diagnosable mental illness, so it is very common. We know that suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst adolescents and that is rising, so it is clearly impacting everyone yet no one is talking about it.

I definitely can understand a family’s fear of not saying anything lest their child be treated differently. At the same time, one of the ways to reduce stigma is to stop staying silent, and to be able to have conversations and teach our child ways to talk about what they are struggling with.
Because when we don’t talk about things, we inadvertently send the message that it is something to feel shameful about. And one of the biggest ways to reduce stigma is to start having educated, informed conversations about what mental illness is, and what it isn’t. So that children understand that it is a disorder - it does not define them. One of the additional ways to reduce stigma is being very mindful about the kind of language we use - we want to see the person for who they are and hold empathy for them instead of just seeing a label. When you hear people say, "that child is depressed", remind them to instead say "that child has depression", so the disorder doesn’t take over the way the child is seen. We want to see the person for who they are, and not identify them as a disorder.

What do we need parents to look out for before they seek a consult?

Parents know their children better than anyone else, and if you notice that your child is not behaving as he used to, whether that’s socially different, they’re reporting maybe more physical symptoms.. It is very common for mental health symptoms to manifest as physical symptoms for adolescents. If you just have an inkling that something is going on. If the therapist thinks there is nothing going on, or that the child won’t benefit from the therapy, they will be honest about that, but it doesn’t hurt to take them in just to get an opinion. That’s the best place to start.

To listen to the full audio, click the link below.

Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Mental Health in Asia

Source material from The Socially Responsible Practitioner

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