How Parents Can Help Destigmatize Their Teen’s Mental Illness

Most parents of teens grew up during a time where mental illness was something to keep quiet or was considered shameful. You didn’t feel cool telling your friends about your anxiety attack or being depressed. Your parent’s generation was more likely to ask you to keep such details quiet, or they minimally acknowledged it. The result of this is one that produces feelings of being the outcast in the family and community.

Society has come a long way in building acceptance around mental health issues and creating opportunities for open discussion. However, how we talk about mental illness, psychological and or emotional disorders are still evolving. This blog will highlight the improved, supportive language and behavior around these topics.

Using Person-centered Language

Parents can be aware and intentional when referencing their teen’s disorder. The language that destigmatizes is person-centered. What does that mean? Here are a few examples:

  • My daughter is a person with bipolar.
  • Our son has chronic anxiety.
  • Your brother is someone with an addiction.

There is a notable difference between saying — ‘He is schizophrenic’ and ‘He has schizophrenia.’

Two decades ago, people were more likely to say their child is bipolar, manic, or other mental health issues. It is essential to recognize that your teen is aware that they are not their disorder and that the way you speak to them supports that idea.

Avoid Verbiage That Polarizes/Excludes

On the surface, some words seem descriptive and or clinical at most. However, consider how words can cause your teen to feel different and or separate from other family members who aren’t experiencing similar challenges. These are some examples where commonly used language can create feelings of isolation or, at the very least, a you-vs.-them distinction. Some examples are:

  • The twins have a psychological disorder.
  • Our child suffers a mental illness.

Words like ‘disorder’ or ‘illness’ are a kind of commentary better kept to your one-on-one conversations with mental health professionals.

Note in all the above examples, no one ‘is’ the disorder, or directly or indirectly defined with a negative adjective or phrase — ‘crazy,’ ‘out of it,’ or, ‘an addict.’

Supporting Ideas for Destigmatizing Mental Health

In addition to how you speak about mental health to your teenager and immediate family, there are ideas and helpful perspectives to integrate into your social interactions that can set a standard for further destigmatizing mental health.

1. Consider Mental Health is as Important as Physical Health

For years, society treated mental health as secondary to physical health. In the last half-century, science has the data to link the two, as well as prove that disorders are tied to brain health. You wouldn’t tell a cancer patient their pains were ‘all in their head,’ or to ‘try harder.’ The same goes for your teen with depression or agoraphobia.

2. Rebellious Behavior is Not Just ‘Acting Out’

Maybe your teenager who is in detention for cutting class is not just trying to get attention or appear tough or ‘cool’ to their friends. Be careful to not write it off as a phase. Take into account other behaviors. They may be covering up emotional or mental health issues that they don’t fully understand and or know how to navigate.

3. Normalize Talking about Feelings

When you and your spouse, partner, or other family members get upset, do you openly talk about your feelings? Your actions set a precedent with what your kids feel comfortable doing. Whenever possible, let your teen know that it is ok to be upset/angry/sad, and they can feel safe talking about it with you.

Now more than ever, the destigmatization of mental health is crucial to teens and their development into successful adulthood. If you have questions about stigmatization, or if your child is struggling with mental health issues, Deschutes Wilderness Therapy’s experienced, caring, certified staff are happy to assist you.

You can learn more about the programs we offer here.