Mental Health, Faith, and Stigma
Submissions deadline: April 29th
For most of my first year of college, I was very depressed. I was exhausted all the time, it was difficult to focus or motivate myself, I didn’t feel excited about things I usually felt excited about, I often felt numb and wanted to just not exist for a while, and when I didn’t feel numb my emotional responses to both good and bad things were unpredictable. At the time I didn’t really know how to talk about it. I was scared and felt like a burden to the people around me. I knew that maybe I needed help, but didn’t really know how to go about getting it. Plus, I felt guilty that I was struggling so much when, on paper, my life looked pretty great.
I now know that the experience I’ve had with episodic depression isn’t uncommon. In fact, 1 in 4 adults has a diagnosable mental illness. That doesn’t even take into account people who never get professionally diagnosed, or people who struggle with chronic stress or other mental states that aren’t diagnosable, but that can still weigh us down. Unfortunately, mainstream American culture doesn’t prioritize mental health and, despite its prevalence, mental illness is stigmatized–causing people with mental illnesses to feel isolated, rejected, or unvalued. We see this stigma everywhere: when people make jokes about mental illness, when people criticize others for being dependent on medication that provides the chemicals that their brains fail to produce naturally, when people call people who they disagree with “crazy,” the list goes on and on. In some Christian circles we also face the assumption that mental illness is a sign of weak faith or sin. The stigma around mental health is undeniably harmful.Many people never seek help for their mental illness because the stigma around it promotes feelings of shame and guilt. It casts mental illness as a personality flaw or condition that makes some people worth less that others. These false assumptions can be combated by affirming the truths about mental illness (for example, that it does not affect the worth or value of a person) and by sharing honestly about our own mental health struggles, whether we’ve been diagnosed with a long-term mental illness, or we find ourselves often feeling anxious, worried, or stressed. Normalizing the idea that humans need time, energy, and resources to support their mental health serves all of us.
So, this month we’re going to be discussing our experiences with mental health, stigma, and where faith fits into the messy process of figuring out what kind of support you need to be your healthiest, fullest self. Below are some questions to get you going, keep in mind that the value of your thoughts and reflections on this topic come from your experiences, not from your ability to say the “right” thing.
–What is your mental health story and what has it taught you about yourself, the world, or God?
–What have you learned that you need in order to work towards health and wholeness in your life? How are you trying to give yourself that?
–Have you had to ask for help in your mental health journey? How did that feel? What did you learn from it?
–Where do you see connections or interactions between your mental health and your spirituality?
–How have you been aware of stigma in your mental health journey? How have you worked to de-stigmatize your relationship with mental illness?
–Where have you found sources of support and comfort?
–How has your mental health journey challenged your faith or perception of God?
–What are your hopes for ways that we, as followers of Jesus, can support one another and embrace those who feel the pain of stigma and isolation?
–How do you work to counteract the narratives that suggest that our worth lies in what we produce and how high we can function? How have you worked to remind yourself of your inherent value and that your mental health journey is blessed and important, even if the dominant narrative doesn’t value it?
As always, these questions merely serve as ideas to get you thinking about our theme. Feel free to answer many of them, or none of them in your reflection on this topic. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns, and be sure to check our submission guidelines before submitting your contribution.