Today, I’m going to talk about the stigma surrounding mental health. Having been close to ministry and in a ministry dense life, I can tell you there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and the church. We need to do better.
Stigma is when someone, or even you yourself, views a person in a negative way just because they have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as a feeling of shame or judgement from someone else. Stigma can even come from an internal place, confusing feeling bad with being bad.
Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out, getting needed support and living well. Learning how to avoid and address stigma are important for all of us, especially when you realize stigma’s effects:
- People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult.
- Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability across the United States.
- Even though most people can be successfully treated, less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need.
- The average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for all Americans.
I proudly support my husband in his journey to get the help he needs to be his best self. I love him, no matter what his disease makes him feel, and I stand beside him on the journey to getting help. Raising awareness of mental health will help diminish the stigma that is associated with it in many circles. Don’t feel bad for those with mental health conditions, support them in a caring way.
When someone approaches you and tells you about their mental health, remember they are confiding in you. They trust you to listen and not fix their problem and not share this with others. If they are seeing a therapist then they have someone helping them. If they aren’t seeing a therapist yet, although they’ve come to you, encourage them that seeking a professional is not a sign of weakness. It is a brave step in trusting God and those He has given strengths to guide and help heal.
This person clearly trusts you and wants to let you in on what they are experiencing, it’s important to listen and be present for them when they need to talk about what is happening. If this is in a church environment it is ok to ask if they want you to pray for them, particularly for healing and support. But don’t say:
God will get you through this.
He won’t give you more than you can handle.
There is a reason behind your illness.
Please, don’t say this to anyone actually. Ever.
Listen with an open heart and mind. Ask what you can do (beyond praying) to support them through this time. This could be calling to check in on them, surprising them for a day out or bring them a favorite snack. Don’t let your conversations always dwell on this person’s illness, you can ask how they are doing but if they don’t want to talk about it ok. If you are worried about them, tell them and tell them why.
I am not a doctor or a licensed therapist, in the event of an emergency always call 911.