If you are parenting an adolescent or teenager, you’ve heard of the Netflix Original Series 13 Reasons Why. Chances are, your children have too. The television series, based on a novel by the same name, is a fictional story of a teenage girl’s suicide and other sensitive issues associated with it. The show has quite unceremoniously placed the issue of teen suicide in the front and center in our community conversations. However, many of us parents are discovering the difficulty of having conversations about teen suicide and its representation in 13 Reasons Why in our own homes with our own children. The mere introduction of something so tragic has left parents wondering what to do. Do you let your kid watch the series? Will it cause your child to romanticize suicide? The answer might come easier with some guidance.
There is a persistent swirl of myths, inaccuracies, fears and assumptions that surround mental illnesses and their treatment. The origins of these beliefs are vague, but our mission is clear: educate adults and children about mental illness, start conversations, and promote appropriate treatment and care for children experiencing a range of mental, emotional or behavioral disorders. To accomplish this, we work hand-in-hand with parents, caregivers, physicians, therapists and the children themselves. In our work, these are the most common myths we encounter, and the facts that disprove them.
Parental intuition is a powerful force; one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Imagine if you instinctively knew something was wrong with your child, but everywhere you sought out answers – at your child’s school, at the doctor’s office, among family members and your friends – you were brushed off with a simple, “Don’t worry, your child is fine.” That is, until your child clearly isn’t, and is diagnosed with mental illness.
To recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, One in Five Minds is introducing Pinwheels for Change. The colorful and vibrant pinwheels are no ordinary pinwheels, but the stunning creations of 15 renowned San Antonio artists that were inspired to participate in the campaign. These highly visual reminders represent both the dire situation facing children with mental, emotional or behavioral disorders, as well as the change that can come with proper diagnosis and treatment. Senior Vice President at Clarity Child Guidance Center, Rebecca Helterbrand, said pinwheels were selected as symbols because, “Pinwheels evoke powerful imagery of childhood; of gentle breezes and carefree days. The desire is that these happy images provide hope for the 1 in 5 children that experience mental illness. A hope that can only be achieved by raising awareness about mental illness, ending stigma and improving access to care for all children who need it.”
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.