Isolated. Cut-off. Forgotten. That’s how I sometimes feel as a mom raising children who have mental illnesses. Friends and family don’t know how to help, so they don’t.
Here are a few easy things you can say to brighten up the day of a mom whose life has changed because of mental illness.
1. “You’re a good mom.”
Too many of us carry around tremendous guilt that somehow, someway, our child’s illness is our fault. Some people still believe mental illness is solely based on nurture, but not nature. While mental illness can be brought on by environmental factors, I cannot tell you how many therapists, doctors and psychiatrists are still looking for a childhood trauma that caused my son’s anxiety and depression. There wasn’t one. Unless it was the time I let him cry it out in his crib when he was 6 months old. Or the time I made him finish his peas. Perhaps it was when I let him watch “Monty Python’s Holy Grail” when he was 7. (Nah, that just gave him a fantastic sense of humor.)
2. “I can’t understand what you’re going through.”
No, you can’t. Just like I can’t understand your stress level when you’re filling out college applications. But have you ever had your 7-year-old beat you in public? I have. All I could do was hold her tight and let her flail at me until her episode ended. And no, I did not appreciate the disapproving looks and tsk-tsks I got from the other moms at the park that day.
It’s important to remember books on parenting and conventional wisdom go out the window when your child is having a psychotic meltdown. Discipline, diets and rules do not work on my kid like they may work on yours. And yes, I have tried everything. And like you I’m doing the best I can.
3. “I see your child is (say something positive here)”
Both my children are beautiful and brilliant. They each have their own gifts and personalities. Please acknowledge something — anything — positive about them. I don’t get much positive feedback about my children. I don’t get to cheer my kid on at soccer games or attend the honor roll ceremonies. But I still need to hear something nice about them. Trust me, there are plenty of nice things to say. Don’t worry if it sounds minimal. “Bridget’s hair cut looks nice.” “Charlie smiled at me today.” I’ll take it.
Childhood illness is always heartbreaking and incredibly difficult for families. In my experience, when the illness is a mental one, friends and family stay silent or as far away as possible. Here are a couple of ways you can help:
– See items 1 – 3.
– Send a card. Just knowing someone is thinking about me will brighten my week.
– Give me a big, long hug.
– Invite my other children out for a few hours. Siblings of kids with mental illnesses need a break, too. They rarely get the attention they deserve, so a little from you would go a long way.
– Make a casserole – any meal for that matter. My kid may not eat it, but I’m tired of cooking to his palate. A woman can only eat mac and cheese so many times. When you drop it off, join me for a glass of wine and let’s have a chat.
In what the media have deemed her “biggest speech as the Duchess of Cambridge” to date, Kate Middleton addressed school leaders and mental health experts at a Place2Be Headteacher Conference called “My Head is Too Full.”
Place2Be is a UK-based nonprofit that provides emotional and therapeutic services in schools. Their services reach 105,000 children, addressing issues such as bullying, domestic violence, neglect and trauma. In her speech, the Duchess addressed the importance of early intervention for mental health.
“But of course, many children are not so lucky,” she said in her speech. “Since beginning my work in areas like addiction, for example, I have seen time and time again that the roots of poor mental health in adulthood are almost always present in unresolved childhood challenges… Parents, teachers and other school staff need the tools to help these young people early in their lives. And the earlier, the better. It is proven that early action prevents problems later in life.”
According to Mental Health America, those who are exposed to adverse childhood events like abuse or neglect are 2.6 times more likely to have depression, five times more likely to have serious alcohol problems and 17 times more likely to have learning or behavioral problems. Early intervention can be the key to mental health recovery.
“Many children – even those from stable, happy homes – are finding that their heads are just too full,” the Duchess said. “It is our duty, as parents and as teachers, to give all children the space to build their emotional strength and provide a strong foundation for their future.”
Because our mental health is always with us — and because tattoos can be a permanent reminder of where we’ve been and where we want to go — we asked our Mighty community to send pictures of their ink inspired by mental health challenges.
If you think the tattoos are amazing, the stories behind them are even better.
Take a look:
1. “This is to remind me that it’s not my fault. Seratonin is lacking in my brain. We are all warriors in this fight against mental illness.” — Paige Johnson
3. “Tattoos are so important to my mental health. They’re how I give myself reminders I wouldn’t believe otherwise. I chose to leave that mark there, to leave a moment of hope on myself. I don’t trust hope when it comes from other people, so the self-direction and permanence of tattoos goes a long way.” — Olivia James
4. “I’m not an expert on pain and I’m not an expert on healing, but I do know this: Both are part of life.” — Alyse Ruriani
5. “‘Stars can’t shine without the darkness.’ Even when things in my head aren’t OK, it won’t be dark for long because I’m a shining star in my own right.” — Erica Marie
6. “I’ll never give up, I’m a fighter.” — Jenna Pleasants
7. “This is the tattoo I’m proudest of.” — Kris Lindsey
8. “Pi, a mathematical constant, reminds me that even when my world feels like it’s falling apart, there’s still a constant in the world. The semicolon reminds me I need to keep going even when I don’t feel like I can or don’t want to. A Bible verse reminds me of the big picture I sometimes fail to see when I’m depressed.” — Julianne Leow
9. “Ataraxia — it means ‘tranquility of the mind.’” — Jacklyn Ashley
10. “Covering a scar. My reminder that no matter how deep the depression gets, I have reasons for my heart to keep beating” — Courtney Bowles
11. “The bottom tattoo is for eating disorder recovery. I survived anorexia when I was 14. The top tattoo is for my struggle and recovery from postpartum mental illness. It tried to take my life, but I’m still here and now I’m full of joy and thriving!” — Alicia Nelsen
12. “Reminds me that my post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks and all the pain are in the past. And my story is just beginning.” — Kimberly Elizabeth King
13. “I have post-traumatic stress disorder, severe general and social anxiety disorders and chronic severe depression. I also have a brain injury. The trauma started at 7 and went until I was 33. I have this to remind me that my heart is still beating and my stars light my way. I’m never without love, even alone.” — Kimberlea Halliwell
14. “My husband got this tattoo for me to show his support for my mental illness. I have bipolar 2, generalized and social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.” — Jennifer Rushton
15. “A reminder to love yourself as much as you love others.” — Tiffany Davidson
16. “I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression. This tattoo represents the song ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley. It helps put life into perspective.” — Sarah Gilbert
17. “This hummingbird was tattooed shortly after three months of hospitalization for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. It reminds me that it’s OK to fly. (And this is my PTSD service dog I received shortly after!)” — Kerri Symes
19. “A line from the ‘Firefly’ theme song, reminding me that ‘they’ (bipolar, anxiety, etc.) cannot keep me forever and one day I will be free to fly.” — Kal Gibbs Winters
20. “My sister and I got matching tattoos last year – a combination of a semicolon and a butterfly with our fingerprints as the wings, representing both of our struggles with depression as well as many people we both know who have various mental health problems.” — Rachel Dillon
21. “It says strength from one direction; when you look at it upside down it says serenity.” — Becky Brainard
22. “This one is a quote by Barbara J Winter: ‘When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.’ ” — Jesus Arroyo
23. “I’ve always been drawn to butterflies. And when I was going through difficult times, my mom reminder me of ‘the butterfly effect’ — one flap make a huge difference. My mantra became ‘flap flap.’” –Shelley Field
24. “Twenty years ago I was diagnosed with major depression. In honor of that anniversary, I got my first tattoo. H.O.P.E. stands for: Hold On Pain Ends. The semicolon means my story is not over.” — Kristin Lynn
25. “I had postpartum anxiety and OCD after my son, and after overcoming it I got this tattoo in honor of the semicolon project! That I chose to continue my sentence instead of end it.” — Ethan Lexie Clouse
26. “Recurrent major depression and anxiety. I got this after my first hospitalization. It’s my way of owning it rather than feeling shame.” — Tasha Moreno
27. “This tattoo represents my emotions during my worst time here on Earth. I was dealing with manic depressive disorder without treatment. I had no idea how to handle it. During rehab I had to participate in group art therapy. I was told to draw the emotions I felt in my heart. Red for anger, grey for sadness, blue for sorrow, green for hope and lastly yellow for happiness. I kept my drawing and one year later, I had it tattooed on me to remind how I never want my heart broken in that many pieces again. Every glimpse sends chills down my spine and a big smile on my face knowing I’m better off and loving who I am now.” — BrookeTaylor St. Louis
28. “Tattoo for my son who has OCD, anxiety, ASD and Tourette’s. His favorite animal is an elephant because they may be huge, but they’re gentle.” — Christy Vogel
29. “My phoenix feather rising from the ashes.” — Siân Couch
30. “Celtic sun, inspired by depression and seasonal affective disorder.” — Cherice Marie
31. “My brother had schizophrenia. He passed away 13 years ago at age 22. He taught me so much about acceptance, tolerance, patience and unconditional love.” — Krista Dietsch Furgala
32. “‘Stay strong beautiful, things will get better. It may be stormy now but it can’t rain forever.’” — Beth Ann Baker
33. “I got this to remember myself that even though today may be a bad day, I still have hope.” — Hannah Helmers
34. “I suffer from reoccurring and resistant depression and anxiety. I got this tattoo, an angel symbol that means ‘choose life,’ to remind me not to listen to or act on suicidal thoughts. I can’t control the negative voices in my head, but I can choose not to listen to them.” — Cheryl Joyce
35. “I had this done just after I had the lightbulb moment that inspired me to recover.” — Natice Aimee Duncan
*Some responses have been edited and shortened for brevity
Editor’s note: In a previous version of this article, 36 tattoos were listed.
You didn’t know me, and I highly doubt you even remember me at this point, but I will remember you for a long time.
I suffer from, among other things Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It stems from events I’ve experienced while living on the streets homeless as well as events that happened in my childhood. A symptom of my PTSD is anxiety, very bad anxiety, especially in unstable family situations. For the past five days before meeting you in line, I was a patient in a psychiatric unit. I’d been experiencing flashbacks and extreme anxiety and wanted to hurt myself. To guarantee my own safety, I had myself admitted.
I completed my treatment at the hospital, and I figured I would just go home until my already scheduled intake at the county mental health center. My plans didn’t quite go as expected. My living circumstances suddenly changed, I had no resources, and no one could help me other then to direct me to an anxiety-inducing shelter. I was ready to give everything up. I started making my way to the CVS to fill my scripts and take them all.
A friend offered me a room at in her house in Wisconsin, but I had to figure out how to get 13 miles across the bridge from New Jersey to Philadelphia to catch the bus the next day.
Wait. Next day? What am I supposed to do tonight?
How was I supposed to get to Philadelphia? I felt done. I had the perfect chance to make things right in a new state, but it was just out of reach. “That’s it,” I said to myself. Of course, you didn’t know all this from standing in from of me at the pharmacy counter.
You dropped off your prescriptions and sat down to wait, then I did the same. My friend called while I was sitting there to tell me she could get me a bus ticket tonight; I just had to find a way to Philadelphia.
Normally I would object to people listening in on my phone conversations, but this time I’ll make an exception. I don’t know what inspired you to offer me, a complete stranger, a ride to the bus station, but you did.
I’ve been through pitfalls and black holes and haven’t found a lot of people who would be able to help me, but you, a person who didn’t know me, offered a space in your car to get across the bridge.
I just want to say thank you. You saved my life that day.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.
Last December, I began my nine-month journey in a psychiatric unit. I gained a lot of knowledge over those nine months, but not everything I learned is what you might expect. The end goal was to gain skills to help us cope in the “real world,” but I didn’t realize in the beginning how much would go into it.
Here are some of the unexpected things I took away from my experience:
1. I could laugh. I laughed from my belly, and it was an honest laugh that gave me a small, yet real, glimmer of hope.
2. The friendships I made were unlike any other — I don’t think I could recreate them if I tried.
3. Being honest and open with staff led to priceless moments, like when a one-on-one shower turned into a “Frozen” singalong.
4. Therapy isn’t a walk in the park. It’s tough, but it’s worth it.
5. The value of a cup of tea is greater than you might think.
6. Weird talents and funny stories will not stay hidden for long! Believe me, they all came out at some point.
The Mighty wants to hear about your experiences in psychiatric hospitals. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
I used to feel ashamed of my mental health condition.
Now, I refuse to let stigma and stereotypes dictate how I feel about myself.
If you stigmatize me, that’s yourignorance, not my truth. Stigma is dated, cruel and just plain wrong.
People with mental illnesses are not less-than. They are not damaged. They are not what you see on TV, the news or in movies. They are people: brothers, mothers, fathers and daughters. They are valuable, vibrant, brilliant members of your community. They are one in four people, not some freaky monster you’ve never met.
I have an awesome, successful, happy life. I also have a mental health condition. Big deal. Get over it. Just because I’m different, doesn’t mean I’m broken.
Shame is toxic to the human spirit. I’ve let it go and replaced it with pride and acceptance. You can shame me all you want and have a big ol’ shame party, but it’s my choice whether or not I attend. (I’m always busy with better, more important things to do than sit with shame.) Shaming yourself and others is exhausting — I’ll be by the pool with joy and acceptance if you want to join us.
So, get educated about mental illness and come over to the cool side. Here are five reasons why I refuse to be ashamed:
I didn’t choose this. It’s not a character flaw or a negative personality trait. I’m not guilty of something. I don’t have a mental health condition because I’m weak, don’t try hard enough, don’t have enough willpower, eat too many donuts, like the attention or haven’t read enough “Oprah.” It’s my brain being my brain.
For the record, though, I eat healthy, and I’ve read a lot of “Oprah.”
Depression is extremely different from normal sadness. Anxiety is not “just worrying.” People who have mental health conditions can’t just snap out of it. Know the facts.
2. My brain is actually awesome.
I’ve grown to love my brain. Yeah, I have anxiety — I’m a human sponge for everyone’s feelings and so sensitive I’ll cry during a Cheerios commercial. But the ability to feel so much is also a gift. I have an extraordinary amount of empathy. Where my brain might lack, it makes up for in creativity. I’d rather trudge through mud and then dance in seas of glittery stars than walk on flat, easy road all the time. It’s who I am, and I’m learning to appreciate the mud.
3. Everyone’s mind is different.
No one thinks about unicorns skipping on rainbows all day. People with mental health conditions are not super strange aliens from a far off galaxy. We all have problems and struggles in life. No one is perfect. No one has a unicorn mind all the time.
4. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and now I can help others.
It takes a lot of bravery to get help for a mental health condition and stick with treatment. It takes a lot strength to tell your story for the millionth time, advocate for yourself when your care is crappy, try a bunch of medicines until you find the right one, put up with everyone telling you what you should do, have your claims denied by insurance companies and feel like you’re being treated like a child when you have a master’s degree.
People say hope is right in front of you, but depression is a blindfold. It takes so much strength to keep searching in the dark.
Recovery is sort of like making an huge collage. You’re always looking, finding and pasting things that help you. But it’s a constant project that takes a lot of energy and willpower. I’m proud that I’m speaking out (not an easy decision) and trying to help others as we build our collages together.
5. My pain has become my power.
I’m not ashamed of my pain. I think it’s made me a more compassionate person. It’s given me wisdom and inspiration. I believe pain can be like a question mark, asking us, “What will you do with me? Destruct or create?” It’s energy we can transform and put to use. It becomes our power. It becomes our flashlight to hand to others who are still tripping in the darkness. When we break down and lose everything, we can also rebuild into stronger, wiser and more beautiful versions of ourselves. I believe this pain can be an asset.
What are you proud of? I challenge you to join me and let shame go.
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