When my child was diagnosed with a mental illness I was constantly talking about mental health. I was confusing the two terms and replacing “illness” with “health”, mostly because I cringed every time I used the term “mental illness”.
You see, there’s still a stigma around those words, even for a Mom who has been advocating for her son for years and years. I just couldn’t seem to easily say the words “my son has a mental illness”. It was easier to say “I’m raising awareness for mental health” or “I’m pushing hard for my son’s mental health to be taken care of”.
Until one day my son corrected me.
We were talking about the campaign we are doing called #PushingForAwareness where we committed to completing 50 pushups for 50 days to raise awareness for childhood mental illness. BUT…when we first started the campaign I kept saying we were “raising awareness for childhood mental health”.
My son asked, “Is there a difference between health and illness”? I paused, because in that moment I realized I needed to get over the stigma and educate properly.
I told him that we were raising awareness for childhood anxiety and depression.
“And those are illnesses, right? So we should say that we’re raising awareness for childhood mental illness because that’s what we’re doing”, he said.
“You’re right, buddy. You’re 100% right. We’re raising awareness for childhood mental illness.”
You see, everyone has mental health but not everyone has mental illness.
Your mental health slides on a continuum – some days you could have good mental health and other days you could have bad mental health. Stress, sleep, nutrition, life, in general, all lend a hand in dictating your mental health. But mental illness? Well, that gets diagnosed by a professional.
You may notice now that in the live videos we do for our daily pushups that my son introduces it as “raising awareness for mental illness” and after a few weeks, I no longer cringe at those words. I’ve grown accustomed to them and appreciate the power behind them.
I was feeling pretty baffled by my reaction to the words mental illness, but I’ve accepted that it was all based around the stigma we are currently battling. Even though I’ve been battling and I’ve been fighting for my son, I needed to wrap my head around the terms. They’re just words, but wow…words hold power, don’t they?
The more I’ve used the words, the easier it’s gotten. It’s not that I’m ashamed of his diagnosis at all, it’s not that I felt the need to hide it (obviously…sheesh we’re running a whole campaign on it), but I did need to address my cringey reaction to those two words.
And, the answer truly was stigma. It’s a long battle ahead of us to de-stigmatize the word. I know this because even as a true and huge advocate for mental illness, I shirked away from using the correct term for my son…and that’s the problem.
I realize more than ever that the work we need to do to help in the area of destigmatizing (is that even a word?!) the words “mental illness” is massive. However, I also know you can get the heck over it because I have done just that.
So, say it with me “MENTAL ILLNESS”.
My child has a mental illness.
I can say it now and I actually stand a little prouder. I may even throw a shoulder shimmy at you because it’s not scary at all. It’s actually pretty damn empowering.
My son called me out on not addressing the issue and using the incorrect term and I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s not embarrassed by it and he continues to have the amazing conversations about mental illness with adults, friends and random people in the grocery store. So who am I to stand in his way?
If you haven’t checked out his campaign to raise awareness for mental illness, please do so! We have ONE WEEK left and we’re about $1300 short of our $5000 goal.