There With Care: Chipping Away at Stigma

This post was provided by Paula DuPré Pesmen, Founder and CEO, There With Care

Mental health is surrounded by stigma. We often hear this, but what does it mean? What is stigma for a family with a child in a mental health crisis?

In talking with families that we work with at There With Care, it centers around fear. One family shared that while their daughter was in-patient, they didn’t want anyone to know. They feared that when discharged, she may not be cast in the school play, her one joy. Another shared that other parents wouldn’t want their children to spend time at their house. They worried the other parents would fear “their kids might get ideas”.

Stigma is isolating

At There With Care, of the thousands of families with a child with cancer or other illnesses to which we had delivered food and essential support, we had never knowingly provided a meal to a family with a child in a mental health crisis. Why was this different? Why was mental health treated so differently from the other patients we served? Stigma is isolating.

In fact, Mental Health is medical health, which is why in April 2020 There With Care launched a new program bringing essential care and community to families who have a child in a life-threatening phase of mental illness including severe eating disorders and self-harm.

These families need support, so they can focus on their children

In this program we have learned the needs of all families in a medical crisis are nearly the same. These families need support, so they can focus on their children. They face financial stress from loss of work, siblings suffer in silence, and people around them don’t know what to say or do, so often do nothing out of fear of doing the wrong thing. While we are all more aware that kids are struggling more than ever with their mental health, so many people still struggle to figure out why.

Emergency room visits for mental health crises in children skyrocketed by 140% between 2016 and 2021, according to The Colorado Children’s Campaign. 

To help with this overwhelming need, families with a child in a mental health crisis are referred to There With Care through the social workers at the Children’s Hospital Colorado Pediatric Mental Health Institute for support with food security, transportation assistance, housing stability, support for siblings, and patient and family essentials.

What’s more, a medical crisis doesn’t impact one person, it touches everyone, and it threatens the wholeness of a family. This mental health support aids in stabilizing families. It allows them to attend treatments, have financial security when one parent must leave work to care for their child in the hospital, and so much more.

There With Care’s Mental Health Program now works with an average of 30 families each day, and has supported 1,275 family members during a child’s mental health crisis.

In our work, we look at ways we can show up for a family during their child’s mental health crisis. We strive to break down the stigma that surrounds the child and family. Three ideas to chip away at this stigma are:

Talk openly and without fear

It might feel scary to talk about mental health, and people often fear that if they ask someone about suicidal or self-harm thoughts, they may give others the idea. Proven by the medical community, this is a myth, according to the American Psychological Association. Talking about mental health reduces isolation and breaks down stigma. For the person suffering, professionals have shared that they often feel a sense of relief being able to talk about what they are thinking and going through.

Listen, without feeling you need to fix it

A family in crisis often holds their child’s diagnosis in secret. Oftentimes people just need someone to listen. When hearing about someone’s struggles, there can be an urge to come up with ways to fix it. Sometimes just listening and giving a family the safe space to share what they are going through, without judgment, can help to reduce the stigma they may be feeling.

Show up, break down isolation

Families often live in fear that their child may be isolated from friends and community if others knew they struggled with a life-threatening mental health crisis. When you show up with a meal, send a card, visit, check in, offer to help with siblings, and more, you bring a sense of community for the family in a medical crisis. Helping to normalize this medical diagnosis, opens the doors to support. It creates an opportunity for them to network ideas and resources.

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Mental health is medical health. When we learn how to talk about mental health with our children and others, we normalize it. This makes our shared community stronger. Join us to support for these children and families.