A parent visits a psychologist and says “Doctor, I feel that my daughter is suffering from depression.” The concerned mom spoke at length about what she’d been witnessing. The doctor acknowledged that although he would need to examine her daughter to provide a formal diagnosis, the behaviors that she narrated did suggest depression.
Throughout the visit, the doctor noticed that the mother seemed uneasy. When he spoke about meeting her child for an examination, she was even more uncomfortable. She eventually confessed that she worried about what her family and friends would think if they came to know that her daughter was seeing a psychologist. And she was almost panic-stricken about the possibility of her daughter’s friends and classmates finding out.
The U.S.-based Mayo Clinic defines stigma as being viewed “in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage.” (www.mayoclinic.org) The Mayo Clinic notes that stigma can lead to reluctance to seek help or treatment. However, it suggests several coping strategies that can be helpful to the parents of a child with special needs.
- Get treatment – Don’t let the fear of being labeled prevent you from getting your child the help he or she needs.
- Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame – Don’t fall prey to the notion that you or your child are at fault or that the problem is a sign of personal weakness.
- Don’t isolate yourself and your child – Seek help from people who will provide the compassion, support and understanding you and your child need.
- Don’t equate your child with his or her condition – Instead of saying he or she “is autistic” say he or she has autism. Your child is not a condition; your child is someone who experiences a condition, but is also defined by many other unique and special traits.
- Join a support group – Connecting with others who have similar experiences can provide relief and alleviate the sense of isolation you may feel.
- Get help at school – Talk to your child’s teachers about your child’s condition and the resources that are available.
- Speak out against stigma – By speaking out against stigma in a public forum, you can instill courage in other parents who are reluctant to seek help. (Mayo Clinic)