Many people know very little about mental illness, which can result in them being scared of people who suffer from a mental illness. There is a lot of prejudice and shame about mental illness and it is a general but incorrect belief that if your parent has a mental illness that you will have it too. Mental illness is not catching and does not ‘run in families’. There are many different contributing factors involved in mental illness – genetics is only one element and the environment makes all the difference.
People who have a mental illness may at times have extreme or unusual reactions to situations, like saying or doing things which are upsetting to others. Strange or unpredictable behaviour can make people feel frightened or uneasy, and for a child it is confusing and often alarming to have a parent with a mental illness. It is very stressful to have to take responsibility for your parent and to deal with others prejudice and stigma. It is important to understand more about stigma and to counteract it by learning more about the illness as well as ways to talk about it with your parent. Being able to talk about it helps.
Dealing with other people’s negative attitudes, fears about mental illness and stigma, as well as your own stresses can be really difficult. When you are already worried about your parent, hearing negative things from others can lead to more stress and may make you want to stop talking to anyone about it. It can be particularly hard if you also don’t know much about mental illness and are worried that what they are saying might be true. If you want to know more about mental illness, there’s more information on Our Time’s website.
Where do these beliefs come from?
We often see very misleading and negative representations of mental illness on TV, in films and in the media in general. Many cultures have thoughts about mental illness that are based on traditional beliefs, which originated before medical science allowed us to understand the brain and the impact of environmental stress. These beliefs are handed down from generation to generation and are difficult to challenge or question.
It is important to be able to talk about mental illness openly and to get support from friends, family and other people such as teachers or other professionals. You will benefit from the opportunity to talk about your home situation with people who do not hold these negative views and who can support you in managing stigma and what to do when you experience it from others.