may mental health 2018

May is Mental Health Awareness Month 50 for 50 #17

May is mental health awareness month. This is a partial repost of a blog I wrote a couple years ago about the danger of fear and labels. Please. Don't let fear stop you from seeking help. 


There is one word that holds big meaning for every parent on a journey of learning about, living with, and loving someone with mental illness: LABEL.

When my daughter first got sick, I didn't want anyone to know for fear of how she'd be treated once she got labeled with mental illness. In today's judgmental society and with the stigma that surrounds mental illness, my concerns were valid. Every parent I know that has contended with school district personnel or treatment professionals has encountered some less than stellar results. When my daughter got sicker and I became desperate, I didn't care who knew. I wanted every teacher, counselor, administrator, doctor, psychologist, nurse, and stranger on the street to participate in helping her recover.

Finding a middle ground might have been a better idea, but we do the best we can under certain circumstances. Fear can be a benefit; it's the yellow caution light that warns us danger may be near and to take care. In general, making decisions from a fearful frame of mind is not advantageous. We are more likely to overreact and to under-think. Most mental health professionals have a sincere desire to help, but there are as many opinions on treatment as there are clinicians. And whether or not we like it, recovery is based on symptoms which generate a label which generates a treatment plan. It is still our child–a unique and important individual–behind the label, and compassionate mental health care team members won't forget this fact. 

There are steps we can take to alleviate our fears. It’s imperative to get educated, speak to and learn from other parents, and be honest by having appropriate discussions with professionals and our child. We can develop a plan to addresses the main concerns and plot possible courses of action. We can advocate on our loved one's behalf because no one else will. 

Why am I so passionate about this? Because. When we're faced with the reality that our child is sick, that she might need more help than we can provide, that she might be singled out and possibly ostracized, and that we, as parents, may feel embarrassed and insufficient and ashamed, we must still find a way to embrace that fear and move forward. 

I've heard stories about parents who don't take advantage of what the system has to offer. This is an incredible waste of precious time and resources. Statistics prove that early intervention is the key to better and more lasting outcomes. Plus, once our child turns 18, unless we receive her consent our participation will no longer be welcome in the treatment process. 

I've said before that I had to learn to find gratitude everywhere I could. I am grateful that my daughter’s illness emerged as early as it did. She was 13 years old. I’m convinced that we owe her recovery in largest part to early detection and intervention. It required hard work on her part and ours, but had she not gotten sick as young as she had and had we not intervened as quickly as we did and had we not used the system as much as we could our story could have had a different conclusion.

I understand how terrifying the prospect of a label is, and how we physically ache as parents for our children to succeed. Sometimes we're forced to put aside the expectations we had of what we thought, dreamed, prayed, and hoped our children's lives would be like. This is by far one of the cruelest side effects of a child’s mental health diagnosis. Accepting a label and the help that comes with it can be a powerful tool to mitigate the associated pain and grief. We strive to provide a health and happy environment for our family, please don't let stigma stand in your way. 


  1. Tracey, this is a powerful piece of writing.

    How amazing it must be for you to look back on those times, and then marvel that last week you brought your girl home from her freshman year at college! Back then it probably seemed as though college – or a bright future of any kind – was not in the forecast. Kudos to you for continuing to advocate for mental health, and for encouraging parents to overcome their fears and do whatever it takes to help their children.

  2. This is so powerful, Tracey. When my daughter was first diagnosed with panic attacks at age 10, my husband and I knew we needed to let her teacher know, as her anxiety stemmed from the classroom. But we hesitated telling the school nurse. We didn't want our daughter labeled in fourth grade, knowing her medical records would be with her throughout high school. We really were torn about that. We did end up talking to the school nurse about it, which was the right decision for us.

    But labels are stigma and it's hard to admit to having that label, whether it's ourselves or our children. Which is exactly why we need to keep advocating, keep talking about mental health and mental illness, so those labels don't mean any more than if someone says they have high blood pressure or diabetes.

    Thanks for this Tracey! xx

  3. Tracey, this is always a great topic to address, again!

    I've seen what appears to be parents burying their heads in the sand, not wanting to confront what's wrong with their children. No one wants his or her child to have any type of health problem. Yet, as we know, ignoring it does not make it go away. Symptoms can get worse and that doesn't bode well either at home or at school.

    I feel like I was on the other side of the fence when my son was behaving inappropriately. This was in the 1990's and into the first several years of the 2000's. I knew something was wrong, but doctors and therapists couldn't come up with a diagnosis until the situation was at it's worst… when my son was 17 years old. Bipolar disorder. I knew that if there was, in fact, a diagnosis other than "boys will be boys" or "he's a teenager; he'll grow out of it", we'd have a better plan of action to help him. When the label finally came, it was still horrific and not one I wanted to announce to the world.

    But the good news: As a 17 year old, he couldn't be forced to take a mood stabilizer, but he did agree to take the medication about a month or so after the diagnosis was made. And it's helped him tremendously. He's 28 now and thriving.

    I've come a long way since then, from feeling ashamed about his diagnosis to sharing my story in hopes others will be open to talking about mental illness and seeking treatment for their loved ones.

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