Mental Health, Stigma and Honesty

I previously wrote a blog post about what I say when people ask me about Bryce. It is a difficult question to answer. I am an advocate for mental health awareness and for my son. I am a stigma fighter. I help raise awareness for mental health, I advocate for mental health reform. I volunteer for the Crisis Text Line, for Sheppard Pratt Health Care Center. I worked with adults with severe mental illness. I write this blog. My goal is to make people know that it makes you strong, not weak, to get help and that mental illness is no different than any other illness.

I have never shied away from telling people that Bryce had a mental illness, but it has often been difficult to explain or find the right words to describe him. It is sometimes difficult because you worry about how others will react or what people know about mental illness. It has also been frustrating because it has been confusing as to exactly what Bryce’s diagnosis is. When I asked my husband Terry, he says that he tells people simply that Bryce “has serious mental health issues”. For me, it depends on my own mood what I say. Sometimes I say that Bryce has severe special needs. Sometimes I say that Bryce has severe mental illness or that he has Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Anxiety and developmental delays. That is a mouthful.

Yesterday we received the results of his most recent psychological and educational tests. The results stated that Bryce meets criteria for a child with Autism. Finally. We have tried to get that diagnosis for years. The doctor who did the testing and analyzed the results stated that Bryce probably always met the criteria. As of yesterday, I can say that Bryce is a child with Autism, Depression and Anxiety. It is a clear diagnosis and easy to say. I can say it again. Bryce is a child with Autism, Depression and Anxiety.

Nothing has changed between the day before yesterday and yesterday. Bryce is the same child today that he was last week. He is the same 14 year old he was two weeks ago, but he has a new diagnosis, a new label, a new way that I can described him. I have been given a new way that I can explain his behaviors, his quirkiness, the reasoning behind why he is the way he is.

But, along with this new diagnosis and label, I also feel guilty. I like the new way I can describe Bryce. Why? It is easier, clearer and of course, comes with less stigma. Yet, I am the one that is outspoken and fights stigma. I am the one who says it is ok to say you live with a mental illness. Bryce still has a mental illness. He still struggles everyday. But now we get to say Autism. Not one mention of Bipolar Disorder in the new report.

I want the stigma of mental illness to go away. I want people to think the same way about someone with Bipolar Disorder that they do about someone with cancer. But, even for me, even for someone who is an advocate for mental illness, it is easier to tell someone, Bryce is a child with Autism than Bryce is a child with Bipolar Disorder. It is also easier for me because it is less scary. Less scary that Bryce might hurt himself. But in reality, he still has suicidal ideation, he is still anxious and he still struggles with school.

So, does it even matter? I don’t know. I wish that I did. I want to say that it is not true. I want to say I am better than any words or labels. I want to say I am stigma free. I thought I was. But maybe all of us have a little stigma inside of us. We can only do our best.soical-stigma


6 thoughts on “Mental Health, Stigma and Honesty

  1. TCA December 14, 2016 / 8:59 pm

    I love this post, because it is so accurate. I remember telling a co-worker that my 8-year old was diagnosed with depression, and I will never forget his appalled reaction – what does an 8-year old have to be depressed about? It was easier to say she suffered from anxiety and ADHD. We do the best that we can do. As I have said before, you are remarkable and such a positive role model for other parents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tracy December 14, 2016 / 11:12 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment. Absolutely – people tend to not understand the words attached to our young children’s brain. All the best to you!!!


  2. Gayle Greenberg December 14, 2016 / 9:39 pm

    Nice post. Glad you could finally explain why this was so upsetting to you. I was confused the other day. I think a label is a label, like you have brown hair or red hair. Bryce is the same today as yesterday but maybe the treatment is better or different or more effective? I don’t know, just a question. Love you. Mamma G


    • Tracy December 14, 2016 / 11:11 pm

      He is the same, but this is not what I was upset about. We received other news about Bryce that I did not discuss in this post. I was glad we received the diagnosis of Autism because it is easier to explain. The treatment will be the same for now – but more doors will be opened down the road. Plus, it confirms what we have always known about our precious child.


  3. Lisa February 14, 2017 / 6:30 pm

    A very thought-provoking post and one which I can agree with on a lot of points. I would like to be able to say I’m stigma-free too. I mean, I suffer from mental health conditions myself so who am I to judge others? But still, I can’t help but agree with you that all of us perhaps have a little stigma inside of us, especially when it comes to conditions we ourselves are less familiar with. I’m glad for both of you that you are happy with the new diagnosis. Of course, labels aren’t everything, but I also believe they can be beneficial in some cases.


    • Tracy February 14, 2017 / 8:29 pm

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and thanks for reading!! It means a lot.


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