It is a packed auditorium. It is an award function. The curtain is raised, the mc makes the introductions and the stars of the day come up on stage to receive their awards to deafening applause. It's the DWIJ award ceremony. Started in 2008 by Institute for Psychological health (IPH) and USV pharmaceuticals, this award is given every 2 years to patients and caregivers who have struggled with some serious mental disorder and managed to overcome it, in many cases the disorder is not completely cured, but they are still leading a meaningful existence.
This initiative is a big step towards reducing the stigma attached to mental disorders.
We have to admit that all of us have some stigma in our mind about people with mental disorders. When we hear about some relative or friend being ill we immediately reach out (visit them, call them to enquire, help with resources, etc). But do we show the same attitude when it comes to mental illness? It's a big NO. On the other hand we tend to isolate (almost ostracize) them and their caregivers.
It is not my mission to do away with the stigma. But I want to do my bit. If I can change the attitude of even one family I will feel happy.
Children being naturally inquisitive ask us why certain people or children look odd or behave oddly. It might be a child with autism or mental retardation, or a child who is hyperactive, or is impulsive, or has to stammer, or is slow to grasp things. Our response is usually - Don't go near him. Don't play with him. Isolate him in class. Show pity on parents. Blame parents for their child-rearing practices. The list is quite long.
Now imagine this being done to you when you are having flu or gastro or any physical illness. Often, it is the social stigma which is more painful than the mental disorder.
My point is you don't have to strike a friendship or invite them over to your place. But simple things like acknowledging them with a smile if you cross them, appreciating the parents for the extra effort they are taking for their child, letting your child interact with him/her if he wants to, teaching your child not to tease/bully such a child, teaching your child not to be scared of them, explaining to your child that the ‘odd behavior' is a part of the disorder and not done purposely are some gestures that will encourage our children to be empathetic.
Let us try to inculcate a sense of empathy towards people with mental disorders in our children. It will go a long way in creating a society that is inclusive, and healthy.
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