• Julie Busler

Educating Children About Mental Illness

“…yeah and this guy was like crazy and spent time in an insane asylum…”

I was washing dishes as those words pierced my heart. One of my children told me a story about someone they had heard about, innocently regurgitating the view society has taught them of mental illness.

“You called them ‘crazy’ but I don’t think that’s a very nice way to put it,” I said.

“Yeah but he’s like mentally ill or something,” he responded.

Dread filled my chest as I found myself at a fork in the road. Do I stop talking and save myself possible humiliation? Do I explain that his words could in fact describe his own mother?

Shame told me to be quiet and not tell.

Bitterness told me to be angry for the story I’ve been given.

Unbelief told me to question God’s goodness.

Guilt told me my illness has ruined my children

But in me was also emerging this gut feeling that change can start with one person at any time. Why not now?

“Do you remember how I have spent time in hospitals?” I asked him.

“Well yeah.”

“Do you remember that it was because of depression?”

“Uhhhh, yeah”

“Well how you are talking about that guy is saying that I’m crazy. And it’s better to call it a psychiatric or mental hospital”

I felt awkward; I hated that moment. But if we don’t begin educating others with patience and love, how will the world’s view shift to see mental illness without the unfortunate stigma attached to it? And if I hadn’t held on to my faith in God’s goodness, there’s no way I could have made that good, hard choice to be vulnerable.

“Yeah, but you’re like not crazy, mom,” he said with a giggle.

“But in those hospitals, I have been roommates with people you would not even believe.”


“Yes,” I said. “And ya know what it’s taught me? That I’m just as human as them. That we are all broken and in need of Jesus. That there are real illnesses that need to be addressed. That we are all made in the image of God, and that there’s no need to fear those who struggle in this way.”

I could see the wheels turning in his mind. My son understood what I was saying, gave me some hugs, and we moved on. That awkwardness I felt was worth it to educate the next generation. We can teach others in gentle ways, without anger and bitterness, that there is no need to fear mental illness...but it’s an uncomfortable choice.

Who will join with me in this lifestyle of vulnerability and patience with others? I see my child as powerful voice in his generation. Yes, his story has had difficulty because of me, but I’m learning that as I continue to gently educate him, and God guides him, he could be a compassionate voice that could save lives. That hope for him gives me the nudge to choose humility as I continue to share parts of my story I never thought I would

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