Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness in Our Community

When we hear that a child has a serious illness or injury, as parents we all empathize and immediately wonder what we can do to support the child and the parents. We may bring casseroles, send cards, or run errands, or we may educate ourselves so we can support the parents and the child.

When we hear about an illness that impacts 20% of our youth, we are stuck like deer in headlights. According to the CDC:

  • More than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.
  • 1 in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their lives, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.
  • 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

Despite these alarming statistics, we are surprisingly under-educated about mental illness. I think this is partially due to fear, denial, and the stigma attached to mental illness. It is more common than many people think. It is frightening, and it is unknown to many of us. However, I’m here to tell you it may be in your house, and it’s definitely in your neighborhood.

So let’s get educated.

When our children were little, many of us voraciously read books about raising babies and developmental milestones. I think when the teen years hit, parenting transitions from a physical to a primarily emotional task. We buckle our seat belts for teen driving, social pressures, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and disobedience. We tutor our teens so they can get into the college of their dreams. What you may not be prepared for is what to do when your extremely obedient, rule abiding child suddenly can’t go to school, won’t leave their bedroom, and doesn’t believe they have any self-worth. Today, parents need to recognize the warning signs of anxiety, depression, stress, and crisis that impact so many teens in our community today, and understand the resources available to support them.

On May 6, 2018, our church held an event called “Beyond the Stigma,” where members of our community gathered to learn to recognize signs of mental and emotional issues in our youth, how to respond, and how to leverage the many resources available in our schools and community. We were joined by representatives from Minding Your Mind, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), school guidance counselors, mental health professionals and parents. We heard lessons from young adults and parents who have been through various challenges and worked through denial, confusion, resistance, despair and treatment to finally find hope and recovery. We all left the evening realizing that we could all move beyond the stigma if we would “Just Talk About It.”  For more information, visit the web sites of Minding Your Mind or NAMI, or if you are experiencing issues related to youth anxiety or depression, consider joining a weekly parent peer support group at WPC. Please email for more information.

The first step for all of us is education, and our community is here to help.

Nancy Dever

Posted by Nancy Dever at 8:00 AM
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