Labels: Shame, and Fear: Destigmatizing the Stigma in Mental Illness


What comes to mind when you think of these three words: LABELING, SHAMING, AND FEAR? I would
wager that we all know someone who suffers from mental illness, if not ourselves. Overcoming the
stigma that society has placed on mental illness is an uphill battle.

I was raised in a time when depression, anxiety, eating disorders….you name it…were taboo and were only to be discussed inside the home, if at all. Personally, I felt as though I embarrassed my family and went many years suffering in silence and without treatment because I thought I would bring shame on the family. I now know that it is okay not to be okay. I believe there needs to be a shift in the mindset of society where your mental health needs are recognized to be just as important as your physical health needs.

Today, we know families and youth are waitlisted for mental health services for months if not years. This mental health crisis can be so frustrating and scary for families. So, what can you do to help
yourself and youth?


Take some time to start a conversation about mental health. Feelings of depression or anxiety are often hidden because youth are confused, embarrassed, or ashamed. You can help protect your child and their friends by talking to them. Ask open-ended questions. Let your child steer the conversation to what they want to talk about. Don’t rush to solve their problems. Instead, ask what they think would help a situation. Be available and make sure your child knows it. “I’m around if you want to talk later” may help. Try talking on a walk. The relaxed atmosphere makes it easier for some kids to open up.

For more information on how you can help your children visit Evidence-Based Suicide Prevention – MindWise Innovations. This is a great resource for families to learn more about mental illness.


Kathy Young is a Permanency Coordinator in the Adoption and Foster Care Program at JFS.
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