Even though mental health research makes advances daily, especially in countries like the US and Canada, we have yet to eradicate the harm that stigma has on people with mental health issues. It is important to note, then, that stigma, stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, and so forth, have been found to be powerful barriers when it comes to accomplishing oneâ€™s life goals. So, who in the world would want to have a mental health diagnosis attached to his/her name in a world where mental health is seen as less than?
I want to share with you a story that challenged the way I thought about mental health â€“not only as a psychology masterâ€™s student, but also as a mom, a friend, and a caregiver- and I hope that it challenges you as well. Three years ago, my family and I decided to move abroad to a South American country, despite all of our Canadian friends and family advising us not to. Once in our new home, cultural differences quickly became evident, such as educational deficiencies and political problems, among many others. All of which are important when it comes to mental health.
About four months ago, I noticed how at my daughterâ€™s school, one teacher was targeting a little boy who exhibited conflictive behaviours during an activity. I must say that I was very distraught with the way the teacher was handling the situation and making this little boy feel. I learned soon after that the child had been working with the psychology department and that some strategies were being applied. However, as a social worker, I could not just ignore the issue, so I decided I would talk to his mother and share what I had just seen. To my surprise, his mother told me that her son had been diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) at the age of 9. I was startled. I had been reading about this illness in my masterâ€™s program and I knew it was not an easy diagnosis for anyone to have. But one thing that struck me, even more, was the fact that I did not remember reading about MPD in children before. So, I decided to read up on it and I found that there was very little information concerning this type of population. In fact, there were only two academic single case studies looking at MPD in children. These studies clearly specified that children who have been diagnosed with MPD present over-the-top behaviours such as suicidal ideation, instability, identity distortion, troubled relationships, and so forth. But, most importantly, it was mentioned that there are no real tools to diagnose these children, and therefore, practitioners often have to use adult tools on children whose behaviours are by nature unstable.
It is here where I want you to think about how often we challenge those who diagnose us? How often do we challenge ourselves to go further and self-explore the information we receive? One of the ways to eradicate stigma, help those who really need it, and advocate for better services, is for us to think critically and openly start talking about mental health issues. Had the mother, in my previous example, felt comfortable talking about her childâ€™s mental health issues with the other parents and classmates, her child may not have had to endure being mocked at school for â€śbeing specialâ€ť or being resented by his schoolmates for receiving more attention from teachers. Unfortunately, however, the mother lived in a country where personal image was everything and so talking about her childâ€™s illness was not an option.
As I said previously, cultural and educational differences define us quite strongly in the way we do things. However, and maybe needless to say, despite all the economic, political and social differences that separate us, many people still struggle with the idea of a mental health diagnosis and live with it quietly and painfully. Just like any other physical health disease, mental health should be a concern to all, not just to those suffering from it. So, let’s talk about mental health!