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Mental Illness Awareness Week: What I Wish I Had Known about Stigma

Congress officially established National Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in 1990, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) facilitates MIAW the first week of October each year. 

NAMI explains: “Mental health conditions are important to discuss year-round, but highlighting them during MIAW provides a dedicated time for mental health advocates across the country to come together as one unified voice.”

This year’s theme, “What I Wish I Had Known,” focuses on the power of lived experience and includes these daily topics:

  • Monday, Oct. 3: Stigma
  • Tuesday, Oct. 4: Medication [National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding]
  • Wednesday, Oct. 5: Therapy
  • Thursday, Oct. 6: Disclosing [National Depression Screening Day]
  • Friday, Oct. 7: Caregiving

Rather than publishing a newsletter this week, we will share thoughts about each topic daily. We encourage you to check out NAMI’s MIAW page and the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Executive Director Wendy Bailey’s MIAW outreach.

As Mississippi’s only statewide organization run by and for families of children with behavioral health and related challenges, Families as Allies is thrilled with this year’s MIAW lived experience emphasis. We know how powerful and meaningful it is when one parent who has been through something with their child helps another parent on the same journey. That is why Families as Allies exists: to support each other as families and to work together to make things better for our children. 

Our first core value is every child and family. We will not judge or blame you; we will stand with you if you feel judged or blamed by others. We hope our unconditional acceptance of each other as families helps counteract the stigma families sometimes experience.

Stigma happens in different ways. Sometimes we tell ourselves stigmatizing things about our children’s challenges, such as: 

  • It’s embarrassing or shameful for my child to have mental health problems.
  • No one else has gone through this with their child.
  • It’s all my fault this happened.
  • If my family’s faith were stronger, my child would be OK.
  • My child is too young to have mental health challenges.

As natural and overwhelming as these thoughts can feel, this is the reality: Mental health is part of health, and mental health problems in children are common. Children, even very young children, can need help. Getting your child help for mental health doesn’t reflect any more on your faith or your family’s strength than getting them help for asthma or diabetes. Just as we might learn to do things differently with and for our children if they have diabetes or asthma, we might learn to do things differently with them if they have mental health challenges. That doesn’t mean we caused the challenges.

Sometimes the system is stigmatizing when we try to get help for our children. It can be hard to find the right kinds of support. The same systems and agencies that are supposed to help our children can sometimes feel frustrating and judgmental. We will stand with you and support you if you feel that way. We will support you in finding the best options for your child and help you understand your and your child’s rights in different systems.

Policies and laws can address stigma as well. State law mandates that Mississippi’s system of care for children’s mental health shall be family-driven. Family-driven means families have the primary role in decisions regarding their children as well as the policies and procedures governing the well-being of all children in their community, state, tribe, territory and nation. True partnerships with families and their organizations go a long way toward addressing stigma.

Families as Allies is here for you if you are dealing with your feelings of stigma, if you are looking for support that doesn’t feel stigmatizing or if you want to work together on a system of care that combats stigma. We are all in this together.

Our virtual  Drop-In Family Support Time is. October 6 @ 12:00 pm CDT. All families are welcome. Please see our events calendar for more support and training activities.

[Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash]

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