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Aiden: Stigma Busting

adults discussing youth mental health issues

Aiden, age 12, decided that “enough is enough.”

He decided that it is not right when people with a mental illness get treated badly by others for no good reason. People can be mean to people with mental illness and make fun of them. They might even call them names. People might avoid people with a mental illness or not want to be friends with them. This is called stigma.

Aiden and his friend Rory worked with the 7th grade student council, a teacher, and a principal. Together they created the “Fight Stigma” after school club.

The club members wrote about stigma and mental illness for the school newsletter. They put up posters explaining that people with mental illness as a group are not violent or “crazy.” Aiden and the club explained that mental illness is a common health problem. And that people with mental illness can get better. They even gave information about where to get help for mental illnesses.

Aiden looked at the more common reasons why people don't get help. He found  the most common reason is because people are ashamed of having a mental illness.

Aiden's mother has a mental illness called schizophrenia. Before Aiden understood his mother's mental illness, Aiden wouldn't bring Rory to his house. Aiden was worried that his mother was hearing or seeing things again. When this happened, sometimes, his mother thought that people were “out to get her”. So, she would not always be so welcoming to someone new coming to the house. She heard voices talking to her in her head that said, “don’t trust that person” and “you are not safe.”

When Aiden looked up schizophrenia online, he learned that it is a mental illness. He learned people who have schizophrenia can do things to help the illness go away. Some things people can do is take medication or go to counseling. Even having good health habits like exercise and eating well can help. This process is called recovery.

Aiden has changed since he founded the club and learned about his mother's mental illness. He said, “I’m tired of people not treating people with mental illness right. Now, I see the bigger picture.”