Altering expectations


flowers 1When I attended a support group for parents of mentally ill children, I was exposed to the gamut of emotions that parents experience when their son or daughter is diagnosed with a mental illness. Every parent there mourned for the way their child’s life had changed.

Shock, loss, grief, fear, confusion, ambivalence, guilt, helplessness, despair, sadness and hopelessness, were common reactions.

We had to learn from one another to forge new and more realistic dreams and expectations. We learned to cope with the fact that mental illness attracted less empathy and more discrimination than other illnesses. We learned to take one day at a time. We learned that although early identification and treatment was essential, negative stereotypes deterred people from acknowledging the early signs.

When a physical illness is concerned, it is acknowledged far and wide, while society understands and accepts mental health in a far less comprehensive manner. Reducing the stigma requires widespread community education plus the willingness to challenge others when discrimination occurs in one’s presence.

Once again, I mention journalists as they need access to accurate up-to-date information to ensure that their reporting will not unintentionally reinforce negative stereotypes. Unfortunately, journalists worldwide, use terms that often serve to perpetuate the awful stigma associated with mental illness. We still hear expressions like;

He didn’t take his meds, He’s crazy, or, she’s a violent seductress, a schizo, nuts, wacko or demented. These terms help keep the stigma going strong. Is this the aim of an accurate journalist who can easily verify facts on mental illness on the internet or preferably from a psychiatrist?

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