As the list of mental illnesses grows with each new edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (the handbook used by mental health clinicians to assess mental illness), the risk grows for parents to fall into thinking that their child is doomed by the disorder and that nothing they can do will help the situation. When parents feel as though the disorder is bigger than what they can handle, it is not uncommon to go into a passive, defensive-mentality, and in worse-case scenarios enable behaviors from their child that might otherwise be improved upon. For example, if you think your child has ______, and that with ______ he does not have much hope, why would you even try? Sadly, some parents fall into this trap and it is both unhealthy, as well as unproductive, if the end-goal is to help the child improve self-esteem and experience success in life.
Mental health labels
The DSM allows mental health clinicians to classify mental disorders, but it also has an unintended effect. Specifically, when parents learn of their child’s psychological disorder, the response by many is to turn the disorder into a self-fulfilling prophecy ad falsely assume that their child is a permanent victim without chance for improvement. How do I know this? Because I talk to parents both at my office, as well as in my personal life, and regularly hear them tell me how helpless their child is to his ___________ disorder.
“He wont be able to focus because he’s ADHD.”
“He’s that way because he’s on the spectrum.”
“She’s got anxiety so she can’t give a speech in class.”
Sadly, many parents quickly assume that their child is forever impacted by his/her psychological disorder, not realizing the following:
- In all of these cases, mental illness is defined by a series of subjective-symptoms, and not something visible on an X-ray, MRI, or even blood-work.
- Mental health clinicians are human, and while counting up symptoms they can — and often do — make poor diagnoses.
- With most mental disorders, counseling support and other therapeutic interventions can help clients get better and move on from the original diagnosis.
- By making a victim of your child because of his or her disorder, your child may never put forth future effort to overcome and improve.
Watch making the disorder an excuse
Some parents quickly hide behind their child’s disorder to create an excuse for why he or she may be under-performing in school, sports, or socially with friends. While this excuse might “work” in the short run, it also holds your child back from improving upon his or her situation when it is clear that your standards and expectations are not very high. So for every time a parents says “he can’t do that, he’s ______” the child hears those words and thinks why even try?? Over time, this mentality can dramatically alter the course of the child’s future, often leaving the child in a helpless and hopeless mindset that hinders happiness and future success.
Classifying mental illness is important, but it’s also important to know that this process is far from an exact science. When everyday people, including parents, erroneously interpret a diagnosed mental illness as something that will prevent their child from experiencing success and happiness, the child is left in an even more difficult position than simply working through the challenges of the disorder. Mental health labels are helpful for defining the problem and developing a treatment plan, but these labels can also leave people — especially kids — thinking as though they will never recover, and consequently do not even try.