Timely articles on mental health issues and spirituality
Join me in imagining for a moment if you will...
Imagine that you (or perhaps a close family member) have a health issue that could present challenges in different areas of your life. Let’s say that the issue is one that is quite common and treatable, but you may need to see a specialist periodically. You are experiencing this health issue by no fault of your own...some people just have it. Maybe it’s asthma, diabetes, or perhaps an autoimmune syndrome or an allergy? Maybe you suffered a traumatic injury of some sort? Would you share this issue with others in your circle? Would you seek treatment to improve your quality of life? I’m guessing that for most of us the answer sounds something like “Well of course I would!”
Now, consider the exact same scenario, but instead of the health concern being any of the things named above, imagine that it’s a mental health issue. Would you still share with those around you? Would you still seek treatment to improve your quality of life?
If you answered that you would not, there are likely a number of reasons. But, I would venture to guess that some part of your hesitancy would be due to the stigma associated with mental health in our culture. The conversation about mental health is becoming more prevalent (as is evidenced by the work that Woodland is doing….Way to go, Woodland!). But overall, as a culture, and as Christians, we still have a lot of work to do. In any given year, 1 in every 5 adults, and 1 in 6 children/adolescents experience a mental health issue. In the time of COVID, these statistics are likely much higher.
Stigma refers to stereotypes, or negative views, that are attributed to a person/group whose experiences, characteristics or behaviors are seen as different from the norm. Stigma is often rooted in misinformation and fear. Over time, stigma is internalized and can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, or inadequacy. Those affected may feel tainted in their identity in some way.
But we must ask ourselves...what does the Bible say about our identity? It tells us that we are created in God’s image and that we are his masterpiece. He saw our unformed body and has ordained all of our days. He knows of our challenges and suffering, and he has plans for us. His word assures us that his plans give us a future and hope! (Genesis 1:27; Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 29:11).
So, as Christians, how can we work to destigmatize mental illness? Here are a few thoughts:
We know that God provides comfort to the suffering and meets the needs of the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 145:18), and we must trust him on our journey. However, this trust doesn’t always mean waiting out a situation of suffering. Rather, it may look like taking a faith-filled step to harness resources that God has placed in your path, whether that be a counselor, friend, support group, or medication. Friends, please don’t suffer alone. Reaching out does not indicate weakness or lack of faith. Rather, getting help may provide you with healing and clarity that will allow you to experience God’s presence in your life more fully.
Laura Dempsey is a licensed social worker and therapist with nearly 20 years of experience counseling children and families.