The Stigma of Mental Health: When Parents are Seeking Treatment for their Child
Amanda Mojave, LPC, Primary Therapist at Trails Carolina
Brenda Zane is a Sky’s the Limit Fund board member, Founder of Hopestream Community, and podcast host of Hopestream
About the episode:
A conversation with Amanda Mojave, LPC about how the stigma of mental health affects parents who are seeking treatment for their child. She offers healthy advice to help parents navigate during this difficult time.
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Hi and welcome to a another guest Speaker Series with Sky’s the Limit Fund. This is Brenda Zane. I am the lucky board member for Sky’s Limit the Fund who gets to talk with some incredible people from our partner programs. And we are an organization who funds wilderness therapy for families who are in need of some assistance for a truly transformative and really effective treatment modality. But often far out of reach for families because of the costs. So Sky’s the Limit Fund is a nonprofit where we have amazing donors who provide funds for families so that we can help them in their time of crisis, not only with wilderness therapy, but also with family coaching, with coaching for the students after they return home and for the family. And then also for wraparound services in their local community. Because when you come home from wilderness therapy, it’s not just like, okay, everything’s fixed, there’s still work to be done for both the student in the family. So those are all things that we fund. And today, I am really excited to introduce and talk with Amanda Mojave, from Trails Carolina. She’s the youth clinical program manager and a primary therapist there. And she leads and works with younger girls in the program their students who are aged 10 to 14. And so I’m excited to have a conversation today with Amanda around stigma. And I was telling her earlier that is one of my favorite topics, because there’s so much in it. But welcome, Amanda, I’m really happy to talk with you today.
Thank you, Brenda, I’m super happy to be here, I’ve had families utilize sky’s the limit. And so when this opportunity kind of arose, I was just really excited to be able to take part in this.
It’s such a great feeling to know that through the work of our donors on all their, you know, funds that they give and the grants that families are able to get this help because it is incredibly expensive. But as I know as a, you know, parent, of a student who went to wilderness, it’s just such a game changer. And so we’re we’re really proud to work with trails, and let’s just sort of dive in. Well, first, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about your role, so we understand what you do day to day with? With Trails Carolina, and then we’ll get into a little bit more about the most specifically?
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve been with Trails Carolina for about three going on four years now. And I’ve been working with youth girls assigned female at birth for about 10 years now in this age range. And I love how much fun they like to have. And so, at trails, you know, I as a primary therapist, I hope that we’re infusing fun into a really heavy topic like we’re going to talk about today. There’s a lot of stigma around this, that both the parents and I think the kiddos carry, so engaging with a lot of play. As the youth clinical program manager, what I’m really trying to do is make sure that we have the most evidence base and clinically, like notable work behind what we’re doing especially working with younger kiddos, I think wilderness in a lot of ways started for maybe older students 14 to kind of 18 and so when we are saying yes, you know, 1011 12 year olds can do this, we want to make sure that we’re just clinically informed in everything we do and have the supports in place. So that’s a big part of my job and something that I really enjoy.
Awesome. So you’re actually going out and being in the field out in nature with your I guess you call them clients with the kids who the girls who are are participating in the wilderness program is that right?
Yeah, yeah, and I’ll client students and sometimes just kiddos I end up calling them but that’s like the very best part is very much like a milieu therapist. So my my best time is spent really out there with them in the day to day not just in a session you know, once a week but really watching them with peers, you know, watching and hanging out for lunchtime and just kind of seeing the full picture as much as I can. And the you know, the healing backdrop that is nature.
Right? So you’re you’re in a day to day and obviously you also work with the parents. And the reason I was excited to talk about this topic of stigma is that I believe that it holds parents back off Then from seeking, so when they have a child who’s presenting whatever issues they’re presenting, that stigma that we feel from our communities from our families can just make us feel like, Oh, I’ve done something wrong, I failed somehow. And we don’t want to talk about it. And so finding help is, can be inhibited? I think.
Yeah, I, I’ve heard so many stories from parents that, you know, we, we wanted to start this process earlier. But my family thought there was more I could do from home or, you know, there were all these suggestions that someone gave me on Facebook and and instead of a supportive, like, what do you need from us? It’s they got kind of met with a well, have you tried this yet, before jumping to that, that feels so extreme. And really, it’s the parents who are living day in and day out with these behaviors, and these really extreme mental health crises that we’re training our staff to deal with, like, we’re training our staff and clinically informed ways to manage these issues, these behaviors, and parents just, they just don’t have that. And that’s okay, they shouldn’t have to. But when you’re alone on the front lines, I just think it leads to a whole host of issues, like we’re kind of saying,
right, right. And I think that’s, that’s a great point for parents to remember is, unless you happen to be a child therapist as your profession, you’re probably not equipped with the, the tools that you need, or the information that you need when your child has, you know, mental issues. So to excel to just fix this on your own or, you know, just it doesn’t make sense. But we do feel you have to reach out for help. And usually, I’m guessing you could tell me if this is right or not. I’m guessing that by the time a parent has reached out to, you know, a wilderness program, they have done quite a bit at a local level, I often don’t hear parents who, you know, the the extreme of wilderness therapy as their first line of defense. So, you know, for those parents who are hearing that from friends and family, well, you should do this, we should do that. And have you tried this? And have you read this book? It’s usually beyond that I have found by
engaging someone Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And it’s so hard to especially, I mean, with the population I work with. So often, I hear no one sees it besides me. Like, you know, she goes to school and holds it together, and then comes home, and just that lid kind of comes off, because that’s the safe space and a lot of ways and that kiddo feels okay to kind of be you know, where they’re at in that moment. And it’s all day it’s building and building and building from a math test to a poor social interaction. And then parents are really getting the brunt of that at home. So sometimes even extended or even immediate family aren’t seeing what really those frontline parents are seeing in a lot of ways.
Yeah. So what you’re saying is, you know, maybe a, you know, 11 year old girl goes to school and seems fine, but that anxiety, you know, I hear a lot of them deal with so much anxiety that the teacher might not see it. A friend’s parents might not see it, but when when that girl gets home, it’s just the parents are seeing the full impact of like you said, the buildup of the day or the week or whatever has happened. And they just they know something’s not right.
And one of the pieces I really wanted to bring into our conversation. Today is this idea of of resiliency zone. We all have one it’s part of our like, basic makeup. If we’ve got a nervous system, you have a resiliency zone. Another way of thinking about it is you’re okay zone, there’s natural highs and lows that you’re going to peek in there throughout the day, but we don’t really want to be bumped out of it high or low. And parents have them and their children have resiliency zone. So yeah, this 11 year old girl goes to school, she’s getting bumped out of her resiliency zone and she comes home and she’s out. And then you have the parent who has their own stressors. Right parent had a hard day at work. You know, needing to work on pieces in the marriage. There’s other siblings, their own friendships, their own hobbies, and maybe they’re already at the edge of their resiliency zone, their times treatment to help expand these zones for some folks whose Mental health doesn’t make it possible for them to kind of manage the day in and day out. And it’s not something that you can kind of do without help. And the stigma around it is it makes it hard to get that help.
It does, I think there’s, there’s a feeling as a parent that if I need to reach out and get help for my child, I have failed. And, and so there’s that, that, like, we talked about the internal feelings of like, failed, but then also, you know, when you, especially at this younger age, but at any age, you know, when you go somewhere, you go at your the grocery store, and you run into your neighbor, and they’re like, oh, where’s Johnny? Haven’t seen him lately? And you say, oh, you know, he’s, what did I say? I would say that he was away at a specialty school. The fact that we even have to say that really just shows how much external stigma there is, because I’m thinking she’s gonna walk away from me in the produce aisle and go, Well, if she had been a better parent, than she wouldn’t have needed to send Johnny off to this specialty school. Right? There’s the that pressure from the outside too. Mm hmm.
Yeah, exactly. You’re, you’re hitting the nail on the head there, there’s that public stigma, that is what we’re seeing in the media, what we’re hearing from our neighbors in the grocery store, what we’re seeing, you know, on the news, all of these areas, and that has a direct correlation to our own kind of self stigma, that we may have carried around with us of, you know, maybe I should be able to handle this. And that negative self talk that happens always, it seems late at night. Right? When you’re trying to go to bed, right?
Or at two o’clock in the morning, when you can’t sleep
and you can’t sleep. And that’s when that self stigma is almost loudest. And so the two ways to really combat it are, they are on the two levels of starting with self and then the the public, right. And so I think the part with your your self stigma, and that, that requires some work, too. So it’s, we always encourage any parents who are coming with our services engaged with like the family coaching your own therapy, because you have to have your own team to kind of battle that internal voice in order to show up for yourself and your kiddo.
Absolutely. Do you think it’s getting better, like in in your tenure, that you’ve been doing this? You know, in 2022, or kind of post COVID? Yeah. And mental has had such a greater focus? Do you think it’s getting better that families are feeling more? Okay, about reaching out?
Yeah. You know, there’s this super interesting dichotomy I have noticed where no one was okay. In the spring of 2020, and so it became okay to not be okay. And there was a lot of really great work and efforts that even pre COVID to having a larger public, you know, destigmatization of mental health and really great efforts. What I kind of then saw, especially for my youth, is seeking connection through mental health illness, and wanting to connect through being unwell. And that happened through social media. It happened through the isolation of COVID being really, you know, that general sense of unwell Well, if you’re unwell, I’m unwell too. Let’s connect around it. And that was really hard for our vulnerable populations, especially middle school girls. That is something I saw and now there’s been this sharp turn of because it was almost brought so much to the surface, it’s starting to get kind of stuff back down again. And now I think we’re seeing in the media, a lot of narratives that it’s we’ve almost given mental health, too much leeway. And that there, these treatment options are too much. And there’s been a lot of really intense and negative media around this, which therefore is making this stigma even worse, and it’s even harder to reach out and get help so it’s been this really interesting and vicious cycle to kind of watch happen and so yeah, some ways progress and in some ways, we’ve still got a long a long way to go.
Right? That’s an interesting point. I hadn’t thought about that about young people sort of coming together around the idea of I’m not feeling okay, which in a way is good. And in a way I could see it could be really problematic. Having obviously bad teenage girl at one point in If I remember how strong those relationships were, and so are the girls that you’re working with? Like, do they feel a stigma as well as if they do go to wilderness therapy? Is it kind of like, like, what am I going to tell people? Why did? Am I broken? Is there something wrong with me that I can go do this thing? So as parents, we feel that that or that, or the kids feeling that as well.
You know, I’ve seen what I have seen more students being okay with coming to treatment and saying, I know I need this. And that generally, I think, comes from the ability of a parent to also say, Hey, we’re, we’re struggling, and it’s okay that we’re struggling. So those parents who have, you know, worked super hard to manage their own, like we said, self stigma, I see their students coming in more ready, in a certain way of being able to say like, you know, my mom, my mom said, she needs help. And I think I need help, too. And we all need it. And we can do this. And the other half of kids are really still kind of struggling, you know, I had one student returning home after, after wilderness, and she reached out, actually, you know, a few months after graduation and emailed me one night, just expressing confusion and some sadness, because a lot of folks in her community said, Oh, that must have been horrible. You must have had a terrible time. You know, and she was like, Well, no, I had a terrible time before I went to wilderness therapy. But I didn’t feel okay to share that. So feeling a lot of pressure to say that she had a bad time. When when really it did help her feel better. So she just kind of reached out. I was like, this is super confusing. So I feel that for the kids, and then I feel that for the parents, too. What do I make of this experience?
Yeah, yes. And that’s such a good point. Because, you know, having gone through that with my son, I think there was a period of time immediately after wilderness. And he was a different case, because he was an adolescent. And there was a lot of substance use and high risk lifestyle. So very, probably very different than, you know, a younger girl. But I think the experience, like you said, can be confusing, like, wait a minute, I kind of know, I did get something good out of this. But I kind of don’t want to admit it, and especially to my parents, and then if my friends say something. Yes, I do kind of feel pressure to be like, yeah, it was terrible. And even though inside they know, and I have the great fortune to having my son have a great relationship, and he says, now yeah, there were some amazing things that I learned, and that I still carry with me today. 567 years later, but man, the first 30 days when you’re out of wilderness, or 60 days or even a year, there’s still so much going on, emotionally and in that pressure from their community that that could be really confusing, but I’ve never really thought about that perspective of like, Wait, am I was I supposed to have had a bad day?
Yeah. Right. Right. And and again, it just fits so in with this conversation of like, a parent, even if a parent is feeling that pressure and and adults, supposedly right has a more developed brain and a personality and value set, these really impressionable kiddos are going to be have an even harder time kind of swaying within that that public eye of like, should I have hated this or? So it’s, it’s a really, it’s really hard. And what, you know, I think about when I have a student kind of returning home and the parent, you know, they’re they’ve been doing that work, it’s community, finding community is so critical of people who are going to trust you as a parent and support you unequivocally and say, Yeah, I bet you needed that. I believe you. I believe that was hard. And I believe you needed this, and how can I help you? Or, Hey, I’ve been through something similar. So finding community, I think is one of the number one first steps for any parent and and students who are either looking to go to wilderness or coming home from it.
Right? Is that something that programs help help you find as a parent, or do you have to really seek that out on your own kind of what do you see how do you see parents being successful with a community of people that understand and won’t judge them?
Yeah, And what I have seen is, we have so deeply recognized the need for that in our, in our world and attended to it. So the amount of increase of parent connection that I think happens and wilderness therapy now is, is really, to me, it feels hopeful and impressive. So parent groups that are facilitated by therapists, so those conversations are supported. And a lot of times, they are just like sharing stories and connecting workshops where parents can even meet in person and come together and connect. And then having like alumni series, we are just starting to do our own alumni, because we’re finding that parents are wanting to connect with other parents who have been through what they’ve been through. So we’ve seen that need and really wanted to fill it out trails, and I really see other places doing the same. So while it can feel so isolating to have your student go to wilderness, it can actually create a really fantastic community to kind of build up and support you in a lot of ways.
Right? You just You see, okay, there’s other people who are doing this, there’s others are experiencing some of the same things that we are. And that, you know, that can be at the really good step toward being able to, like you said, show our kids that it’s okay to need help. It’s okay to say, I’m not equipped for whatever this is, and people who are equipped for this, and who can help us through that this isn’t the end of the world, right? This is something that we can learn skills and tools and you can learn ways to be able to you know, get through that day. I loved your your comment about the resilient Did you say resiliency zone was resiliency
Yeah, and that’s such a good way to think about, as you know, as you’re going through that day, to be able to just let them know, it’s okay, that that’s hard right now, there’s, there’s tools that you can use to help expand that zone, or learn how to stay in the zone, or whatever it is. I think sometimes it can feel really overwhelming for young people to have these really strong emotions and not know what to do with them. And that’s got to be really scary. Yeah.
Yeah. And, and I see the work that I do with the students, one of whenever I say, Okay, what was the best part, you know, of your wilderness journey, they always say, my peers, my friends, you know, like, this is the fastest was the best the people I connected with, I finally met someone who’s like me, who gets me and I can be myself, because they understand me. And I think parents deserve that opportunity to feel as seen and kind of held by community as our students do. We spend so much time making sure we have that group culture for the kiddos, I think it’s so important for the parents. So when they’re dipping out of their resiliency zone, it’s been a really hard day, you know, they’re really struggling with that student that they can reach out to someone and get that boost to maybe come back up and talk to someone and then be able to continue on with their day and have a better time maybe filtering out some of those more negative messages coming in. Yeah.
So important. It’s just there’s just a lot of, I think, often if you’re looking at this situation from the outside, so maybe you’re the you’re the parent at the produce aisle who doesn’t have this experience with your child, it’s really hard to imagine what it’s like on a day to day basis. And so, and I think that’s important for parents, and I’d love to get your thoughts on that. How are there ways that we can sort of shore up our I guess, resilience or our ability to, to push back against the stigma to say, Okay, this is what we have, this is what we’re dealing with and not feel so pressured. You know, if we see something in the news about how horrible wilderness therapy is, and you know, your child’s going to be abused, and it’s like, well, how do we? How do we kind of I can’t think of what the word I want to use is but steel ourselves to say, I know, yeah, our family needs help. And I think this would be a really great way for us to do it. How do parents get that kind of straightened they need
so outside again of that, that, that community. You know, I think the Doom scrolling is so hard. We all do it. Trying not to get on that phone before. or after bed, right? Because the the headlines that are gonna get the most clicks are the darkest, the scariest the ones that bring us out of our thinking brain into our big emotional brain, right. And that is totally by design. So being so mindful of what we consume right on and media, and I think that is in so many ways, and if you’re hungry for information, there’s nothing wrong with that. Books, scholarly articles, like let’s read some evidence based pieces. There are some really wonderful resources out there podcasts. And again, books and that you can kind of turn to to get information because information is power. And I think every, every parent is entitled to that. And most importantly, is a daily, your own daily practice. So that can be having a set of what we like to call help now skills. So if you’re feeling like you’re coming out of your resiliency zone, you’re like, Whew, I read one article, I’m really freaking out, like, I need to take a sip of cold water, I need to stand up and look at five blue things in this room, and maybe go for a walk. So those would be some things that if I was starting to feel kind of bumped out for whatever reason I might do, it’s going to be different for every person. But having those practice and in your back pocket for when you’re at the grocery store, and you’re getting a look, or, you know, Where’s Johnny, you’re like, I’m gonna look, and I’m gonna see five green things and take one breath before I respond. So having your own little set of wellness tools and skills, it’s going to look different for every person, but it is so critical when you’re navigating such an important role as the parent of a child with mental health
issues. That’s so huge. I like the recommendation to seek out evidence based information, research papers, because they do exist. And that is going to be a way more reliable than something that you might see on Instagram or on in the news, where they really are going after clicks. And the more dramatic, and the more, you know, sensational the headline, the more clicks, even if the information isn’t necessarily true. So I think that’s a really good, a good reminder. So Well, thank you so much for joining us for this. It’s such an important topic again, I it is one of my favorites, because I think parents don’t need any more added pressure, we have enough pressures.
Just know that if you are feeling all of the shame and the stigma that oh, you know, how do I deal with this? Just, it’s okay. You know, there there are people who really want to help who have the knowledge and the resources to help you and you got to, it’s just a time to be really strong and not give in to a lot of what can be tempting to just go Oh, all right, fine. I’m, you know, I’m just going to isolate talking today. And the more we do that, I think that just puts our kids at even more risk.
Absolutely. And I think yeah, this is, it’s so important. I’m so grateful that y’all are able to make the space for me to come out today to kind of talk about it. It is it is hard enough to go through this without kind of a resounding chorus of am I doing the right thing? You know, you’re doing the best you can. That is the belief that I carry is everyone is absolutely doing the best of their ability. And that’s what matters. And so we’re here to help. If you need a little bit, or a lot of it.
Yes, a lot of it, is it that’s usually the case we need a lot. Yeah. Scary. When your kids are struggling. It’s really scary. It’s very unsettling. Not only do you have the concern about them, you you worry about what you might have done wrong. You worry about should I have let her sleep over at this house? Or should I have let him do this. And so there’s a million things that you’re navigating about yourself, let alone thinking about their health and wellness as well. So thanks for sharing all that with us. And we’ll make sure that there’s links and information for you in the end and for trails. We’d love partnering with you knowing that there’s a safe place to send our kids when they need some help and when our families need some help.
Mm hmm. Yeah, and it’s always it’s, it’s always our pleasure. I love the the kiddos and in the parents and the siblings the whole the whole family system we love it and it is it really is a system that has to work together so we see that holistically and yeah I appreciate it.
Awesome thank you
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