Mood Disorders: To Label or Not to Label
Recently, I have been asked by several parents how it is they can talk to their child about bipolar disorder. This is a challenging subject because of the fear of labeling a child and therefore limiting or making him or her the target of discrimination or prejudice.
I want you to think for a minute about the impact it would have on a child who is in a wheelchair, if she was not told she was handicapped. In many ways this is absurd. Firstly, she knows she is in a wheelchair. It is obvious to her and it is obvious to everyone else.
Secondly, what is the message you are giving her? That she is different and should be ashamed? No one would ever dare think of shaming a child in a wheelchair. That would be cruel. But why do we do it with our kids who have depression, anxiety , or bipolar disorder? Often, because we want to protect them from the stigma society places on them. Stigmas have to be fought by educating the public. Knowledge is the only thing that combats ignorance.
Kids with mood disorders need to understand that much of their struggle is a result of chemistry, and that they are not just bad kids.
What To Tell Them
I like to teach my kids that they have challenges in life because they feel their emotions too intensely. This is a result of the way the chemicals in their brain function. It seems they may have too much or too little of some of those chemicals. Other parts of their brain are different and make some things harder for them, but other things easier.
They will have to work twice as hard as other kids to be successful in some areas, such as school and social situations. They are capable of being successful in most areas with hard work.
Older kids can decide on their own if they want a more specific label, and some of them thrive once they understand their illness.
I also teach them, and I find this to be true, that along with the struggles they have comes incredible talent and sensitivity. I share the list of amazingly talented people who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Incredibly Famous and Talented People Struggle with Mental Illness
Catherine Zeta Jones
Vincent Van Gogh
Edgar Allen Poe
Edvard Munch ( "The Scream" )
Ludwig Von Beethoven
Don't Limit Them
I believe the children I work with have the capacity to do incredible and great things in the world if we stop treating them as if they are less than everyone else. Look at the list of famous people above? They did great things, but also struggled with depression and bipolar disorder.
Please share this newsletter if you find it helpful. The topic of the next newsletter will be about anxiety in children and adults.
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