Dear Dr. Michelle:
There is still so much stigma around mental health and my daughter has been diagnosed with anxiety. How can I help support her and protect her from teachers, friends and family members treating her differently?
It is great that you sought professional help for your daughter despite your concern about the stigma surrounding mental health. Now you are in the fortunate position to help your daughter as you navigate how to share the information with others.
Dealing with the stigma surrounding mental health is not easy. The only effective way to combat a negative perception is to address it openly through a lot of communication and educating others about your daughter’s specific needs.
Even though you cannot control how others will think, feel and behave, there are ways to share your daughter’s information sensitively and productively.
- First, remember that you are not obligated to share everything with everybody. Since your ultimate goal is to educate others so they can help your daughter, only involve the specific individuals that will be interacting with her on a regular basis (caregivers, siblings, teachers, and coaches, for example). And, only share the specific information about your daughter’s behavior they are likely to encounter given their role, and the plan of how they can respond and support your daughter when her anxiety manifests.
- Once you know the information you will share and with whom, think about how best to approach each conversation with these individuals. You may want to start by asking questions. For example, have they noticed your daughter acting anxious? If so, what kinds of behaviors have they observed? Share that you, too, have observed concerning behaviors, and as a result of your concern, you have sought outside help. Ask them if they are willing to be involved in a plan to support your daughter. Work with them to develop specific ways they can respond to and support your daughter when her anxiety manifests, rather than focusing on her mental health diagnosis.
Inviting people to discuss your daughter’s anxiety gives them the permission to talk to you directly about any potential concerns, but it does so on your terms. At the same time, it sets the stage for future conversations so that if new issues come up, they will know they can talk to you. Last, talking directly about your daughter’s anxiety takes the mystery out of it and removes potential misunderstanding about her behavior; this normalizes it and helps to remove the stigma.
After considering the above advice, if you believe you need to advocate for your daughter using a stronger approach, be direct and tell the people involved in your daughter’s life that you are concerned about how people are treating her and that you want to find a solution so that they don’t treat her differently. Inviting a more direct conversation when needed will help others understand your expectations, while creating the opportunity for others to reflect on their own behavior.
As you talk more openly with other adults who are invested in your daughter’s well-being – including caregivers, teachers and family, you will likely find that they appreciate the trust you are placing in them as your partner and will support your efforts to help your daughter. In the end, that is exactly what she needs.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.