Like the title says and the name of my blog, Stigma does hurt everyone. Stigma is a label, a judgement endorsement we give that comes from “misinformation” on something such as mental illness, a culture, religion, sexual orientation, poverty, homelessness, classicism and any “ism” you can think of. And yes, we even place a label on people of wealth. Go figure eh? We point fingers at those who oppress others BUT we also generalize. But, I digress, for this is not to talk about acceptance and being aware on how we do discriminate. It is to focus on stigma and mental illness. The poem in my previous post The Stigma of Despair was a bit raw and intense. I am aware of that and I apologize to anyone who may have been hurt in any way. I certainly know that parents suffer when their children do. How parents sometimes wish they could carry the burden of their children. But they can’t.
I remember speaking to a youth who was possibly suffering from depression or anxiety. She had reached out to talk about this on a youth line because she felt no one really “got it”. When she mentioned that she had been sad, feeling apathy towards life and her parents kept telling her it was just an “adolescent phase”, I had to smile inside as I listened. I asked her if I could explain what I thought “some” parents mean when they seem to minimize a situation. This time she listened for a while.
Sometimes parents want to take away the “bobo” so their child does not hurt so much. Like a toddler who falls for the first time. I remember when my son fell down 4 steps with his walker. I had forgotten to close the door in the entrance. He had a scrape on his forehead. I picked up the wailing toddler, called my husband, crying and saying how I was a terrible mother. My son and I cried together. And minutes later, he was having fun playing, I still felt sad and so much remorse.
Remember when your child fell and scraped his/her knee? Is that not when you said something that sounded like, “There- there, we will clean it up, put a pretty Band-Aid and it will be all better.” Right? That is often our way of trying to make a child feel better and also to make US feel better.
That teenager whose parents told her it was just a phase to feel sad all the time, was probably doing the same thing…I say “probably” because most parents don’t want their children to suffer and do care! I explained to this teen that sometimes, parents hate to see their child suffer and by minimizing the situation, they hope that it might help to “diffuse” the intensity of the problem. It is usually NOT that they do not listen; it is that they do think this is helping or that they do not always want to accept it.
In this case the youth was over 14 years old and in Canada, youths may consult a medical health professional without parental consent. So we explored several options. A trusted adult like a school counsellor, teacher, family friend, extended relative or the parent of one of her good friends, might be a good “go to” person to start with. That person may actually help explain to her parents that perhaps this should be looked into. OR, she could see her family doctor or a doctor at a walk-in-clinic and explain how she has been feeling. Doctors ask specific questions before diagnosing a mental illness and will do some tests to examine the physical health of a patient. Sometimes a person may be low on some vital nutrients, vitamins such as B-12 (which coincidentally gives symptoms of lethargy, sadness etc.) hormone imbalance (such as Thyroid etc.) and then will assess if the patient is suffering as well, from depression, for example. A doctor can help a teen explain to her/his parents and offer treatment.
I remember another youth writing on-line to our service feeling distraught, crying all the time, starting to self harm and was frightened by her suicidal thoughts. The thought of telling her parents was too daunting. “How can I tell my parents when they are the best parents on earth? They would feel guilty when they never did anything but love me and do wonderful things to make me happy?” And that is when I tried to explain that parents are there to worry, love and nurture their children…that’s their job. They would feel so much worse knowing their child felt they could not go to them when in need. She did write back to say she broke down and finally told her mother who had a good cry with her and they were making arrangements to see a doctor the next day. See!! There are happy endings!
Many people think that someone who worries a lot is just allowing her/himself to fret so much. “Ah, she is making a mountain out of a mole hill again!” Maybe she is but perhaps she is also going to bed at night with her mind worrying about so many other things. Maybe she is waking up mornings and cannot move for hours before getting the courage to get out of bed. And with medication and therapy, she may manage to get out of bed in an hour, get to the bus stop in another hour and that to get to work it may take her all of 2 to 3 hours compared to most folks! Does she tell you about it? No! Why should she if she is going to be shot down that it is all in her head. WE KNOW IT IS!!! and that is why she needs help to manage it better BUT it is not always about mind over matter. We are complex species. Sometimes it can be a chemical imbalance in our brain. People who suffer from anxiety certainly do not want to feel this way.
I hear from teens and young adults who often say, “Well, I’m not going to take medication and pollute my body with chemicals though.” Well, what do I know? I am just a humble counsellor without a medical degree. So I just try to explain as best I can the way I understand this.
Sometimes your body needs help. How many of you take Vitamin C when you have a cold? How many of you take multivitamins especially during the cold weather season? How many take Calcium for your bones? And how many doctors, nutritionists and specialist insist that passed a certain age, everyone should take Calcium supplements to avoid Osteoporosis? How many take a synthetic hormone for a low or high functioning Thyroid? How many take insulin for their Diabetes? Okay, let’s stop there. I think I have made my point.
Maybe taking medication for a certain amount of time is a way to “balance” those neurotransmitters in the brain…sort of like taking a vitamin to boost those chemicals and along with therapy/counselling (like exercise for the body, this is a work out for the mind and soul). BUT, if medication is really out of the question, then you have to be prepared to make some majour lifestyle changes…like eating healthy, sleeping enough hours and exercise. Physical activity (walking, jogging, dancing, swimming…sports) you don’t have to jump hoops, just move that body enough to jiggle that amazing happy drug, endorphins are released and can actually alter your mood.
It is sort of like someone who suffers from certain joint problems may require regular stretching several times a day….ice packs and heat at intervals with swollen joints rather than taking anti-inflammatory medication. Sometimes there ARE alternatives to take medication…but not all of the time.
“The meds are going to change my personality and I am going to be a zombie.” Um, that might have been true in the days of Valley of the Dolls in the early to late ’60’s when too many people (especially women) were prescribed anti-muscular medications like Valium…boy oh boy, have we come a long way since those days…thank goodness! I won’t get into details on the affects of medications and SSRI’s (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) because I am not a health professional. But please DO read up how these work even if you are not suffering from any mental or emotional ailments. Who knows, you may be the one to inform/educate a friend who will tell another friend who will tell a relative who may finally GET help.
© Cheryl-Lynn 2014/06/21