The old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is simply not true. Words are powerful. Use the right ones and you can make a great first impression, get that promotion you’ve been seeking, or land a date with your crush. Use the wrong words and you could miss an opportunity, lose a job, or alienate friends and family. That’s why it’s so important to choose your words carefully, especially when it comes to speaking to parents who have children with a mental illness. The wrong words can be upsetting and damaging. It’s important to note, that this isn’t merely a trend to be politically correct. Instead, this is about being respectful and responsible with your words to facilitate better communication. One in five children suffer from mental illness; that’s 80,000 children in Bexar County alone. Chances are you know parents who have a child or children with a mental illness. When speaking to them, please pay attention to the following considerations of what not to say.
If you’re asked to name a movie character with a mental illness, what example pops into your mind?
Whoever you pick, chances are the character isn’t portrayed in a favorable light. Instances of the mentally ill in the movies usually fall into two categories. On one hand, you have the likes of Norman Bates in “Psycho,” Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of The Lambs,” and Freddy Krueger in “The Nightmare on Elm Street”. These characters depict people with mental illness as violent, disturbed and psychopathic killers. This is despite the fact that most mentally ill people are not violent. (A point that was recently reiterated by a Vanderbilt Study on the subject.) On the other hand, you have characters like Bob Wiley in “What About Bob”, Charlie Bailygates in “Me, Myself and Irene” and Bobby in “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.” These characters are of the kooky, manic and fun-loving variety, which make mental illness seem entertaining and endearing even.
People living with mental illness often say the stigma and discrimination associated with their illness can be worse than the mental illness itself.
So what is stigma?
Stigma is the rejection, avoidance or fear people direct toward those they perceive as being "different." Stigma comes from other people, from institutions and even from self-imposed shame. Individually, each source of stigma represents a major barrier. Collectively, they can be profoundly damaging and difficult to overcome. Stigma can shatter hopes of recovery and social inclusion, leaving the person feeling devastated and isolated.