Mental Health Stigma: Like Parent, Like Child

Posted on 09/10/15 02:53:pm

Starting in infancy, children mimic their parents’ actions, speech and beliefs, whether good or bad. Studies show that the same goes for parents’ stigma about mental health. Parents’ attitudes toward seeking mental health treatment are a factor in their child’s intentions to pursue psychological help (Vogel, et al., 2009). In other words, if you, as a parent, have a negative view about people with mental health concerns, your child is less likely to speak up about their own mental health. Failing to address a child’s mental health may be extremely harmful and the affects may carry on into adulthood.

Although you may not be aware of the negative perceptions that you carry with you, you may be surprised about what your children can pick up on. According to Graham C.L. Davey, PhD, “mental health problems are held by a broad range of individuals within society, regardless of whether they know someone with a mental health problem, have a family member with a mental health problem, or have a good knowledge and experience of mental health problems” (Crisp et al., 2000; Moses, 2010, Wallace, 2010).

Parents are also more comfortable talking about physical health concerns than they are about mental health (Locke & Eichorn, 2008). Parents may feel safer casually bringing up their child’s broken arm in conversation than they are about their child’sdepressionobsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or other mental health concern—which means the child probably is too! This stigma is not only harmful to the child’s view of themselves, but to the parent’s support system as well. Since mental health affects an entire family, each member of the family should have a safe network to discuss mental health.

So how do you, as a parent, create a comfortable environment for your child to talk about mental health? One answer is to communicate with them early and often about mental health. If checking in with your child on their thoughts, emotions and behavior becomes more regular, the less likely they will feel awkward or scared to come to you when they need help.

Frequent communication between parents and children increases the likelihood that the child will be referred to counseling and intervention if necessary, as well as increasing their comfort in discussing drugs, alcohol, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. Children are also more likely to be referred to treatment if parents are knowledgeable about mental health and symptoms and don’t view mental health concerns as a sign of failure.

The bottom line is that parents’ and guardians’ misperceptions may determine whether their child can achieve mental health and a life worth living. Rogers InHealth(link is external) works to reduce mental health stigma in the community by sharing personal stories, working with teachers, workplaces and families to change misconceptions about mental health.

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