Stigma- What It Is and Why It Gets In The Way of Children Receiving Mental Health Treatment

Mental Health Blog Party Badge Today is the American Psychological Association’s Mental Health Blog Party. The purpose is to educate others about mental health, promote healthy living, and decrease the stigma associated with mental health. Since I have a strong interest in stigma (my major research paper and national presentations were on the topic), I thought it would only be fitting to talk about that on CS today.

In the U.S., it’s been determined that mental illness in children occurs at a higher rate than major physical illnesses (e.g. asthma, diabetes), with an estimated 1 in 5 children potentially meeting the criteria for a mental health disorder. Now, it is important to make note that mental illness refers to a wide range of difficulties, from a reading or mathematics disorder, to depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, it is common for society’s view of mental illness as one small part of a very big picture.

The effects of childhood mental illness are long lasting, with an estimated 50% of adult mental illness first appearing during childhood. These figures are being echoed around the world.

We now know that only about 20% of children with a disorder, whose lives are subsequently impaired, are receiving treatment. Of those, leaving treatment before the recommended termination period is common. So why is society hesitant to talk about this very real issue?

In 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher stated that stigma was standing in the way of children receiving the help that they need. Stigma refers to assigning shame to members of a subgroup in society; in this case, those with a mental disorder. This then results in feelings of embarrassment in the person with a mental illness, that may then lead to them not wanting to go to a therapist. In children, it’s also been shown that their parents may feel this shame.

Stigma comes from stereotypes. When we think of mental illness, we conjure up images that have been fed to us by our life experiences and the media. Children develop an understanding of these same stereotypes from an early age. For example, in researching this topic, I came across a group who reviewed children’s cartoons (how fun that must have been), and determined that mental illness was commonly referred to as “crazy” and “mad” in children’s programming.

With all this said, what can you do to reduce stigma? One thing that researchers know for sure is that education is the best method. Look for the facts. Pay attention to the underlying messages of what you see. You can also check out the following for information on children’s mental illness:

Citations: Merikangas, He, Burstein, Swanson, Avenevoli, Cui, Benjet, Georgiades, & Swendsen, 2010;World Health Organization, 2008; American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010;Wilson, Nairn, Coverdale & Panapa, 2000


About Traci S. Williams-Nurse

Dr. Traci Williams-Nurse is a licensed psychologist who specialized in child, adolescent and family psychology. Her interests include child development, family functioning, video games and food. She was born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
This entry was posted in Announcements, Health Care, Mental Health, stigma, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Stigma- What It Is and Why It Gets In The Way of Children Receiving Mental Health Treatment

  1. Pingback: Mental Health Month Blog Party 2012 – Round Up | Your Mind Your Body

  2. Pingback: Mental Health Month Blog Party 2012 – Round Up – Mental Health Humor's Cartoon-A-Thon

  3. I’m so glad your wrote about children and mental illness, because a childs up bringing is so important, it took me long time to realise it wasn’t the obvious trigger which caused all my mental issues but years and years of how i was brung up, you don’t notice it at the time but it does effect a child and there life when they grow up xx

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