Monday, August 12, 2013

My experience with my IEP for depression as a child & OT: How do we help children combat stigma of IEP/mental illness?

Although my blog is typically about depression, today I am going to discuss a little bit about my experiences with IEPs.

I had an IEP since I was in middle school due to being hospitalized due to depression and missing approximately 100 days due to depression in 1 year. At 12, I was unable to "attend" my first IEP meeting. However, in the future, as a student, it felt very awkward. When I didn't go to class due to an IEP meeting or having resource, I felt as though I had to make up excuses. Most people did not know I had resource or was in "special ed". Being in high school, I felt I had to lie to my friends about my schedule having resource on it or missing class to go to the social worker. Since outwardly I came across as a "typical" student, the stigma of a mental illness was too much for me to discuss with peers.

(OT perspective)
I know now that the only way to combat the stigma of a mental illness is to discuss it and educate people. However, when you are a teenager, how do you take on this responsibility? Middle school, high school, those are very hard times. Students already feel different and awkward and it's even harder when we feel as though we have to hide from other students and carry a deep dark secret. This dark secret is due to the fact that the stigma of having a mental illness still exists, especially around children, because mental illness is something hard to understand.  The stigma of all illnesses must be extinguished. We, as professionals, aim to educate all children about disabilities. This means all disabilities, including disabilities that are visible and those that are not visible.  

Some ideas:

  • Discuss with a student on your caseload, if appropriate, about feelings about special education.
  • Aim to do an inservice for teachers on incorporating barriers to breaking stigma into teaching
  • Work with other professionals to develop skill groups/after school/extra curricular groups promoting mental health and healthy living
  • Ask your students what would be most helpful
  • Arrange with local organizations/speakers come in who have a mental illness to talk about their experiences and life (Some local organizations do this to combat stigma)
  • Please comment and write your thoughts. I would love to hear anything you have done.

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