Don’t let stigmas about mental health harm the youth in your life

Photo by Anastasia Vityukova on Unsplash

We don’t judge a child for having a fever. The same should be true when a child is struggling emotionally. And yet, we may find ourselves responding judgmentally to young people in our lives whose behavior indicates they need emotional support due to stigmas we are holding onto(?) unconsciously.

According to LEXICO the definition of “STIGMA” is “a mark of disgrace associated with any particular circumstances, quality or person.”

As an example, let’s say a child exhibits bullying behaviors, inflicting physical or emotional pain upon another child. We may know consciously that bullying behavior is an indication that a person is struggling emotionally, but if we are influenced by unconscious stigmas about bullies, we may respond judgmentally, reprimanding and making them wrong, and missing a critical opportunity to help someone in distress, further adding to their emotional difficulties.

Some of the questions I ask myself in order to ensure I am not allowing unconscious stigmas to influence my responses include:

  • Are you making this person wrong because of experiences in your own past?
  • Are you judging this person because their struggles are making you uncomfortable?
  • And if their difficulties are making you feel uncomfortable, is it because you don’t like these same feelings in yourself?

It’s only when I can let go of the stigma and judgments I have and accept the person for all that they are — and are not — that I can authentically listen and provide appropriate guidance and support.

Take the time to check yourself for unconscious stigmas and make sure you’re not allowing them to impact the young people in your life.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant as professional advice or counseling. If you are in emotional distress or experiencing thoughts of harm to yourself or others, help is available 24/7:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273–8255 (TALK) Spanish & English; Deaf & Hard of Hearing TTY 800–799–4889
  • Text HELLO to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor
  • Call 911
  • If you need mental health treatment but cannot afford it, contact Rise Above The Disorder, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to making mental health care accessible to everyone: YouAreRAD.org

A former licensed psychiatric social worker for 12 years, she is currently developing a multi-platform content series about mental health. ShiftTheShow.com