Expose Stigma: Teaching Our Children Compassion

Today, May 9, is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, the climax of the week on mental health awareness. This year’s theme is Out of the shadows: Exposing stigma.

Stigma is a mark of shame and disgrace, a negative judgment placed on someone or something. Too often, people are quick to judge and assume the worst in a person that has difficulties—which we all have difficulties at some point in our lives.

But, imagine a world in which people had compassion for others who are struggling rather than judging them.

A Model of Compassion

A classic example of compassion is the story of the Good Samaritan.

Samaritans and Jews absolutely hated each other. Yet, when a Jew was hanging on for dear life on the side of the road, robbed and beaten, a Samaritan was the one who stopped and showed compassion, bandaging his wounds and taking him to an inn to further care for him.

A priest and a Levite, both, people who you would think sure to help, had callously passed by the man earlier. Maybe they thought it was a trap and they’d be robbed too. Or maybe they thought the inconvenience outweighed helping the man. Maybe they even thought the man didn’t deserve help because it was his own fault for not being more alert.

Heartless Attitudes

Notice the difference between the Samaritan and the religious men? Sadly, the majority of society treats those struggling with a mental illness or an addiction just like the priest and Levite treated the man in desperate need of help.

Many perceive people who have a mental illness or addiction to be dangerous, so they fear and avoid them. Many are so focused on themselves that they pass by without taking the time to care. Many think it was the own person’s fault for the condition they have, and the “deserved” consequences will teach them a lesson.

The saddest part is that the masses fall into this trap and don’t even recognize how heartless these attitudes are. But, why? How can so many people be uncaring to those in need? Why are there people like the priest and Levite?

—Because no one taught them differently.

Lesson to Learn

With all the stigma attached to mental illness and addiction, how do we teach the next generation a proper perspective? It’s important to teach our familystarting with our youthhow to recognize stigma and replace it with the compassion that should surround mental illness and addiction.

Here are three points that will help you teach your children about people who struggle with drugs and alcohol:

People who use drugs and drink too much, or who are in recovery from addiction . . .

  1. are not bad people. They may have made some poor choices, but everyone makes mistakes. They need help, support and love—not criticism, avoidance or animosity.
  2. are not responsible for their disease. They may be responsible for initially choosing to drink and do drugs, but addiction is a sneaky beast that no one would ever adopt willingly.
  3. are not a threat to us. Yes, some people under the influence can become violent, and a child should seek help and protection in these situations. However, it’s important to remember that drugs and alcohol can make people act in ways they normally wouldn’t. Forgiveness needs to become a best friend, because holding grudges and bitterness is like swallowing poison.

These three points serve as an excellent foundation for additional guidance and education on the topic of alcohol and drugs. Overcoming the stigma is the first step, but these points will inevitably lead to questions about drug-use and addiction. As you prepare to answer the questions that will come up sooner or later (and they will come up), visit our resources section to learn more about how to effectively and sensitively educate your children about drug and alcohol use.