End the Stigma, Stop the Shame

March 4, 2020

“It is an odd paradox that a society, which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable, still remain largely silent when it comes to mental illness.” 
Glenn Close

I am really not a writer, and honestly don’t enjoy it much; however, when I was asked to write a blog, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and give it a try.

My greatest passion is Mental Health (Illness), so here are some of my thoughts, followed by some mental health statistics.

My family knows first hand about mental illness.  My grandmother, mother, aunt, myself, and my son have/had some sort of a mental illness with some cases more severe than others.  My grandmother had severe depression, my mother had depression and borderline personality disorder, my aunt had schizophrenia, I have depression and anxiety disorder, and my son suffers from schizoaffective disorder.  Just in my family alone, there are 5 different mental disorders. Mental illness can be very stressful, frightening, and misunderstood by family members and others that just don’t understand. As a community, we really don’t know how to nurture and care for those with a mental illness.  We want to say, get up, pull up those boot straps and snap out of it. Believe me, sometimes as much as we/they want to, it is just physically and mentally impossible. We can feel guilty, wonder what we did to deserve this, and why is it happening to me.

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of the world, but those who fight and win battles that others do not know anything about.” 
Jonathan Harnisch

I am currently reading a book entitled, Blessed are the Crazy by Sarah Griffith Lund.  I found this quote in her book and found it intriguing. “If we believe that God knits us together in our mother’s womb, do we therefore believe that God knits crazy into our being?  If God is all places and is present at all times, is God also in mental illness? If we are made in God’s image, then is God Crazy too? Or is mental illness one of those things Satan uses to undo us?”

I believe that we are actually making great strides in ending the stigma related to mental illness. Through my son, I was fortunate enough to come in contact with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).  This organization has been a saving grace for me and so many others. I learned not to feel guilty. Mental illness is just that, an illness, like any other illness and not a choice. Whether you are the one with a mental illness, or the loved ones caring for those with a mental illness, NAMI is always there to help and provide helpful information.  They offer wonderful classes for loved ones, peer group meetings, support group meetings, and education.

Now a few facts:

  • 1 in 5 Americans experience a mental illness
  • Mental health conditions are brain-based disorders, not personality failings.
  • In 90% of suicides, there is an underlying untreated mental illness at play. The earlier people receive treatment, the less likely they are to face crisis.
  • Success rates for mental illness are similar to other health issues.  The good news is people can achieve health and wellness!

Some common warning signs:

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling very sad for more than two weeks
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Difficulty perceiving reality: hearing, seeing or believing things are not real
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Isolation: avoiding friends and social activities
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Repeated abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Thoughts or acts of self-harm including plans to kill oneself
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

I hope that we can continue the great strides we are making concerning mental illness.  Let’s stomp out the stigma associated with mental illness, and make it as common to talk about as cancer or any other debilitating diseases.

Becky Dillard is a longtime member of The Church @ Highland Park.

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