Everybody has been talking about mental health lately, and that’s awesome—it’s so important—but we need to talk about the stigma that still exists and how it’s preventing families from getting the help they need.
My son has Tourette’s, a neurological disorder that causes him to do sounds and movements involuntarily. I’ve known he likely had Tourette’s for over two years, but it took me nearly that long to get him diagnosed because of stigma. Because I was told that the word Tourette’s would ruin him. That the diagnosis held the power to limit him and shatter his confidence.
When I made the choice to call a doctor it was tough. I doubted my decision almost daily and I felt guilty. I worried . . . What if the stigma was right? What if a diagnosis would spell disaster for my son?
Eventually, my instinct won and told me that was a lie, so I persisted, and now I can say I have no regrets. My son is supported. This year I did a presentation for his class to raise awareness and it has made a huge difference for him socially. Where before he was bullied and felt out of place, now he knows he is understood and accepted.
But stigma almost got in the way.
Then there is my daughter who has been struggling with emotional regulation. I suspected ADHD and knew we needed help. I called doctors, I got referrals. I took a parenting course. I cried silently in the corner of my kitchen and then did everything I could to put on a brave face for my kids.
Despite my hurt and frustration, I tried to choose patience as a response to my daughter’s anger. Sometimes I gave in too much, somedays I enabled, but I was trying. I admitted that I was overwhelmed and confused and I knew I couldn’t do this alone, but once again shame creeped it’s way in. You know what I heard when I cried out for compassion?
I heard the voice of stigma. The problem is you. It’s just your bad parenting. ADHD is just an excuse.
I was drowning and instead of a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on I received judgement and shame. Shame that made me feel lonely, but most of all kept me from getting the support and resources I needed to make my daughter’s life better.
Today was a breaking point, today after a tear-filled walk home from the bus stop, I realized once again that I needed more help. But I had to fight your lies stigma. I had to fight your shame and psych myself up for an hour just to make that call. I dialed the number of the children’s mental health line, and as I waited on hold, I tried to muster up the courage to fight for our family. I told myself I wouldn’t cry, I would be strong, but the moment I heard a voice on the other end of the line, I burst into tears, sobbing as I tried to push out my words.
My chest heaved with each weighted breath, and even as I literally cried out, I felt shame and judgment from you, but this voice in my head said NO! This voice in my head told me the only regret I would have is not getting the help that our family needs. The only mistake I can make here is refusing to reach out.
The truth is strength and healing are found in our cries for help.
The lie is that we must do life on our own, and that we must deny our very struggles because struggle equals weakness.
This year I recognized the signs of ADHD and anxiety in myself. I admitted that despite what I’ve convinced myself for years, I was not functioning well. Even though I was scared, I picked up the phone and called my doctor because stigma will not get in my way.
Stigma will not make me or my family suffer alone and in silence.
Stigma. Won’t. Win.
Because stigma is a lie.
Hope comes when we reach out. Hope comes when we share our struggles and lean on each other. Hope comes when we love each other and ourselves enough to admit we can’t do it alone. Better yet, that we don’t have to.
Stigma is pride in disguise, and if we want emotionally healthy families, we must call it out.
Despite what you may hear, mental illness isn’t fabricated, and furthermore, it isn’t a character flaw. More importantly, mental health is for everyone, and as parents, we must model for our kids that shame is not welcome here because in our homes we choose hope.
For years stigma tried to keep me down and I let it, but today I’m standing up. Will you join me?