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The Mental Illness Stigma – What can we do?


I recently attended the online Faith and Mental Health Conference organized by the International OCD Foundation. Valerie Andrews, one of the speakers, shared her story. She acknowledged that the mental illness stigma in our society is decreasing little by little, thankfully.

That being said, we still have further to go in some areas of our society. For example, misconceptions still exist among many faithful individuals who mean well, but misconstrue their faith’s teachings. Leaders, relatives, and friends of individuals afflicted with a mental illness may believe the person just needs to abandon sin, pray harder, be better, etc. and their suffering will decrease or be gone.

It’s great to be devoted to one’s faith and religion, it’s another matter to misunderstand and confuse mental illness with a person’s worth. We probably all know someone who has been ignored, mistreated, or misjudged because of their mental and emotional challenges. Some of us may have experienced such a painful event as well.

When we hear about a friend, relative or a fellow church member is going through physical struggles such as cancer, broken bones, or even a bad cold, we are immediately there showing our love and kindness by sending dinners, treats and caring messages.

Why is it that we cannot have the same mindset when we hear someone who is struggling with a mental illness? Miss Andrews, who encountered mental health challenges for many years before being properly diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and getting the right treatment said, “We are the ‘no-casserole’ people.” This is really unfortunate, but we know that appears to be true in most cases.

The good news is that:

  • You are not alone. Find a support group in your community or online to find peers that share your challenges.
  • There are evidence-based treatments to provide you with skills that can help you live a rich and meaningful life, even in the face of such adversity.
  • You have loved ones that truly care about you. Share your struggles with those you can trust to understand your mental illness.

Then consider what small steps you can take to keep the ball rolling to decrease misunderstandings. Everyone needs to recognize that the brain is indeed the most essential part of the human body. When someone has a mental illness, they also need gestures of kindness and love. No one needs to feel embarrassed or ashamed of it. It’s an illness like a physical ailment, and there is help and hope too!

I believe it is our responsibility as friends, relatives, and sufferers to educate others in our social circles. We can all do our part to help prevent more pain. For example, if you are a person of faith, take opportunities to share information with your pastor and members of your congregation. If you are a student, choose mental health as your research paper, presentations and assignments.

Let’s spread the message that everyone of us deserves a “casserole” –no matter what type of illness we may be experiencing in our lives!

“I am thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon my strength.”

Alexandra Elle

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