The Damage of Mental Health Stigmas

My son’s father has done what seems to now be irreparable damage to my son and to my relationship with my son. He has physically and emotionally abused my son. The two have the same personality type – rigid, difficult and combative. His father is idiotically rigid; his way was the only way even if it was irrational or thoughtless to the rest of us. With me, he tried to control. He was pompous, misogynistic, unscrupulous to name a few. When my son was barely 2 weeks old, he went against my wishes of breastfeeding and took it upon himself to feed my son formula. When I asked him to stop, he shoved me and I fell against my son’s crib. From that moment on, I knew his was no good and I left immediately. He resented that I wouldn’t be controlled by him and that I took my son with me. And since that time (and even more so when I took him to court to be responsible with child support – on more than one occasion), he has done everything to destroy my reputation as a person, a woman and a mother.

When my son was acting out, his father would firmly discipline him, sometimes hitting him. When my son was in grade school, he would openly disparage me by telling my son and even school staff that I wasn’t a good mother. He would boast to everyone that his parenting style and ability were more suitable for my son, implying that he was the better parent. As my son grew into middle school age and his behaviors grew more defiant, his father would manipulate him by telling him that his behaviors were the result of my poor parenting and that he would be better off living with him. During those years, the mental and emotional abuse his father put me and my son through were so overwhelming. It was constant. It was aggravating. It was infuriating.

I sought therapy from the time my son was in elementary school, when his father’s abuse and the stress of my son’s issues started. From time to time, I would involve my son and his participation would increase over the years because his behaviors worsened and the need for therapy became more critical. Then, my son had a positive impression of therapy. His father never once participated in any of the sessions.

Somewhere down the road, his father manipulated him further by telling him that therapy was a load of crap, used by only those with serious psychiatric issues, which he told my son he did not have, despite the growing number of diagnoses. His father insisted that my son’s behaviors were simply the result of me being a bad mom. When my son was 12, I had my son hospitalized because his behaviors were just out of control and I couldn’t take it – he was constantly defiant and he started to become physically aggressive towards me. He was in the pediatric psychiatric unit for four days. When his father found out, he was infuriated. Rather than support me and hold my son accountable for his actions, he went to the unit to tell my son that he did not deserve to be there and that psychiatric units were only for the “cuckoos”. What’s more, he told my son that I deserved to be there, not him. This was not the first time he undermined me in front of my son (he had also done it in front of school staff and mental health professionals).

Forward to present day when my son is about to turn 17. As the years have passed, it has become glaringly clear how urgently important it is for my son to receive therapy and maybe even medication. All those years of emotional and mental abuse has done serious damage and therapy is the only treatment to heal his soul. But my son doesn’t believe it. He refuses therapy. When he is forced to participate, he doesn’t say much or he deflects and argues. He doesn’t believe anything is wrong with him and that everyone else is to blame for problems.

The stigma that his father has implanted in my son’s head has damaging consequences. My son desperately needs therapy to become the best possible person he can be but his father robbed him of that. Whatever misconception he had about therapy or whatever animosity he felt towards me, he should have done the ethical thing and put his son’s best interests first.

Stigmatizing mental health and therapy is not ever OK. Many people who suffer from mental health issues do not have the capacity to decide what’s best for them. As caregivers to these people, when we stigmatize, we commit a most selfish act – by putting our ignorance first and our loved ones’ needs last.

I worry that more years will pass during which my son continues to refuse therapy and his relationships with people, me included, will deteriorate. I can only pray to God that my son heals from the past and that at some point, he will become mature and wise enough to recognize that he needs help and actually seeks it for his own sake.

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