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4 Ways to Fight Stigma: Your Child Is Not Their Diagnosis

Parents often have mixed feelings when their child is diagnosed with a mental health condition. On one hand, it can be a relief that your child will be getting help. On the other hand, there’s a lot of stigma about mental health conditions – and people, especially kids, can feel defined by their diagnosis. They might think, “I am my ADHD” or “I am an anxious person.” Even worse, they might think that they are somehow “wrong” or “bad” for having a mental health condition. You as a parent may also struggle with these feelings, wondering why your kid can’t be “normal” like other kids. It can become a cycle of shame between parents and kids that doesn’t need to be there.

Guess what? It’s “normal” to have mental health disorders. Mental health conditions are incredibly prevalent: It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans experience a mental health condition in a given year (NAMI, 2019). This doesn’t even include people who have mental health disorders over their lifetime or people with undiagnosed mental illnesses. However, because of the stigma around mental health, a lot of people are too embarrassed to talk about their struggles. This makes it seem like less people have mental health disorders than they do, when your neighbors, your friends, and kids at your child’s school all struggle. Mental health is invisible: people who you might think “have it all” are sometimes living with mental health conditions.

If your child has been diagnosed with a mental health condition, don’t worry! Many other parents have been through the same thing. Remember that a diagnosis is just a diagnosis. Diagnoses provide helpful information to psychologists, but they don’t give the whole picture. You’re the one who knows your kid in all their nuances, complexities, and quirks. YOU know that your child isn’t “just” their depression, trauma, or anxiety, so don’t let your kid trick themselves into thinking that! Catherine is Catherine and Elijah is Elijah no matter what a piece of paper says. Want to reduce stigma for your child and maybe even for yourself? Here’s 4 helpful tips:

1. Educate yourself & your child about their mental health condition – what it is and isn’t

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about mental health conditions. People don’t tend to discuss their mental health, so the media is our biggest source of information. While sometimes portrayals of mental health are nuanced, often, these portrayals do little to help educate viewers. For example, the portrayal of mental health in TV shows like Thirteen Reasons Why and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not always accurate and doesn’t help reduce stigma.