Family Self-Stigma: Dangerous and Possibly Tragic

May 7, 2012 Randye Kaye

"Katy Jones" is now a high school student. She might not have made it past the seventh grade, though. It took a watchful teacher and a caring school psychologist to take the action that Katy's family was afraid of: admitting Katy for help when the risk was that "people might think she's crazy."

[caption id="attachment_829" align="alignleft" width="170" caption="Refuse Stigma. Choose Help and Hope."]Sad Teen[/caption]

I saw the op-ed piece, called Fighting the stigma of mental illness, in our local newspaper in Connecticut, and immediately wrote a thank-you note to its author, Kenton Robinson.

Robinson writes about "Katy", a student of his in middle school, and how her darker thoughts came to his attention in journal assignments, with increasing talk of death. When Robinson told Katy she must talk to her parents and get some help, Kathy wrote that her parents refused to entertain the idea that she might have such problems. Then, Kathy dropped a note on the teacher's desk:

It was a suicide note.

“Dear Mr. Robinson ... You are very kind. You care for people you hardly know … I wish you could help me. But you can’t. No one can… My emotions are tearing me up inside like a cat in you that is scratching to get out… I’m sorry I was mad at you … Bye-bye.”

In an instant, I was on the phone to the school psychologist. We must act now, I said. We called her parents and ordered them to come to the school that afternoon. When they came, they were
furious. How dare I say their daughter was “crazy?”

And we told them: Either they got Katy help or we would see that Katy was taken away.

In this case, possible tragedy was averted. Despite the parents' protests, Katy was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and eventually with the help of medication and treatment, a new Katy emerged out of the shadows.

(Katy) was smiling now, chattering with friends (so much so as to earn admonishments from her teacher), and raising her hand in class.

She completed the 7th grade, and I didn’t see her again until the following year, on the last day of school before Christmas. Accompanied by three giggling friends, Katy came to my room and
handed me a gift: an angel she had made with wire and green plastic beads.

This is how dire the consequences of the stigma of mental illness can be. And this is how confronting that stigma can save a life.

Now imagine what else might have happened. What if Katy's parents - themselves, I suspect, victims of the stigma that exists all around us that the "label of mental illness" is to be avoided at all costs (and the costs can be quite high, as now 1 out of 14 high school students in Connecticut attempted suicide in the last 12 months) - had stuck with their pride and continued to believe they could "ignore the problem and it would go away"? That Katy would somehow just outgrow those feelings?

I've been at the that stage, and it's called normalizing. Finally realizing that my Ben had a serious mental illness - schizophrenia - that was not his fault, and not our fault, was the turning point that, while devastating, was also a relief - and the springboard to actions that probably saved his life.

Don't let stigma cloud your judgment if someone you love needs help. Please. the consequences could be so much worse than the judgmental looks from others that you think you fear. Help is out there. Insisting on it is the first, vital, step.

APA Reference
Kaye, R. (2012, May 7). Family Self-Stigma: Dangerous and Possibly Tragic, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Randye Kaye

Randye Kaye
May, 11 2012 at 8:31 am

Oh Carrie,
I am so sorry for your loss, for your family's loss. Thank you for telling us your story. I hope it will fall on the eyes of ears of those who most need to hear the message.
Your words have so much truth.

Carrie Laughlin
May, 11 2012 at 7:25 am

I am so glad that the right people were in the right place to help this young girl. I was the non-custodial mother (due to MY illness) of my son through his middle and high school years when he began showing signs of depression and mental illness. I noticed this rather quickly, due to my own experiences, and knowing what to look for. Unfortunately, the stigma was so strong in his rural school district as well as in his father's family. Many times, I alerted the school, hoping a councelor would step in...none did. His father would not hear of anything being "wrong" with him. As this was the environment in which my son was raised, he too decided that he did not need help. This stigma stayed with him throughout his teens and early 20's. At the very young age of 24, he took his life. I had tried my best to dispell this stigma for my son's sake after he left his father's home at the age of 17, however, it had been so heavily intilled, that everything I tried to explain to him fell on deaf ears. Please forgive the length of this reply..I guess what I want to say is: PLEASE PARENTS AND FAMILY MEMBERS, once your loved one takes his/her life, you will never get a second chance. Get them the help they need now. The opinions of those who may judge you are not worth the life of your child.

May, 9 2012 at 5:08 am

Secrecy and stigma are worse than the medical condition itself - you cannot get help and eats you inside out. thanks for sharing and I applaud "Katy Jones".

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Randye Kaye
May, 9 2012 at 12:59 pm

you are so right. and I agree: applause for "Katy" - and all who helped her

May, 7 2012 at 3:34 pm

My husband suffers from depression (ten years),which is now pretty much under control thanks to a few medication bump ups here and there. It scared the daylights out of me when I realized he was suicidal; fortunately we were able to get him to a psych hospital quickly. The doctors there saved his life; I am truly grateful for the the care they gave him. It did take a little while for his family to accept that he needed to take medication daily, but after explaining why, they better understood what was happening and why there was a need for the medication.I don't know if there was any stigma attached to their questioning, but they are a pretty supportive bunch anyway.Thanks for reading my ramblings. :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Randye Kaye
May, 7 2012 at 4:45 pm

and thank you for sharing your experience! I'm so glad things are better now :)

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