Ending the stigma around kids and mental illness

Two children have chronic, potentially life threatening diseases that require hospitalization.

One illness impacts the body. That child may get cards, balloons, calls, visits (pre-Covid), even gifts. Their parents may get caring outreach from friends, including meals delivered and other offers of assistance.

The other child’s illness affects the mind. Their hospital stay is kept fairly quiet. Only family and very close friends know. Their parents – already suffering along with their beloved child – may even get assaulted by clueless questions like “are they doing this for attention?” and “is this your fault because of how you raised them?”

It’s curious that people can be this ignorant and cruel. I know times are changing, but not nearly fast enough.

What do you think it will take to change this scenario above. Why is there so much stigma around mental illness? When will people to realize that a chronic, potentially fatal illness is the same whether it’s physical or mental?

In the above scenarios, of course neither child is at fault. Neither family is at fault. No one chose this. Bad health stuff just happens sometimes to good people. It all sucks.

Why are mental illness so stigmatized, even today. How can an innocent child be blamed for having anxiety or depression – and how can people be so insensitive, judgemental and unkind?

In many cases, the stigma attached to childhood mental illness can be as bad as – or heck, even worse than – the mental illness itself.

Negative stereotypes, prejudice, isolation and discrimination can plague kiddos with diagnosed mental illnesses. These can play into existing conditions and even make them worse. Who among us wouldn’t become more anxious or depressed under these circumstances?

And speaking of anxiety – it’s not easy being a parent in these circumstances. I just read an article that convinced me our parenting is partially to blame for our kiddo’s anxiety. We literally cannot win.

If it sounds like I’m in a pretty dark place today, that’s because I am. I make no apologies – bad moods happen to everyone. We’re shouldering some tough stuff as a family and it’s just no fun.

Where I would normally vent to friends, it feels like I can’t this time because of the stigmas attached. The fact is, I don’t know too many people who could relate to what we’re going through – and sharing it could cause needless judgement about someone I love very much.

There is a huge cost associated with continuing the stigma and silence around mental illness. One solution is for more families to open up and talk about their kids’ struggles. The more people there are who know and love someone with mental illness, the more people will understand and accept it.

Yet we also know that there’s a big cost associated with breaking that silence and “coming out.” We’re not doing it yet as a family. I think that we might, but there are still some conflicting views in our midst. More to come on that.

For now, just remember that everyone you meet may be struggling with issues and heartache you know nothing about. Check on your friends – the strong ones, the not so strong ones – and remember that not everyone is open or obvious when they are going through tough times.

Sometimes, we suffer quietly because we’re not sure how to reach out or what to say. If you’re going through something like that, I’m sending good thoughts and kind vibes your way today. You’ve got this – even if it feels like you don’t.

And if you need more resources about childhood mental illness, the #OnOurSleeves folks at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion are a great place to start. They are working hard to break the stigmas surrounding kids and mental health.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat, snake and guinea pig mom. Travel nut. Writer since birth. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.


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