May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Unfortunately, it remains a stigma for many Christians, who believe that “more faith” is the answer.
But mental illness does not prove a lack of faith. Instead, faith leaders and congregations could offer safe space for persons too often treated poorly because of this diagnosis.
Also, if you work in ministry, then you need a therapist. While mental health remains a taboo topic in far too many churches, clergy often suffer in silence due the expectation that Christian leaders model superhuman strength that spiritually bypasses reality. There is also the valid fear of job loss due to the stigma around mental illness.
Consequently, Christians would do well to raise awareness of support groups and campaigns like Stamp Out Stigma, an initiative by the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness. The campaign asks that we recognize the pervasiveness of mental health issues, reeducate ourselves regarding the truths around mental illness and reduce the stigma.
“It is the goal of Stamp Out Stigma to change perceptions and reduce the stigma of mental illness and substance use disorders by encouraging people to talk about them,” according to the organization’s website. You can also take the pledge “to fully Stamp Out Stigma and clear the path to health-seeking behavior.”
The CDC explains that our mental health impacts our overall wellbeing, and it affects more people than we may be aware of. According to the CDC, “More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime and 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.”
“While mental illness is common, it remains difficult for people to talk about, which often prevents them from seeking out help or treatment. “More than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help for their disorders,” reports the American Psychiatric Association, which also offers a Mental Health Guide for Faith Leaders.
“They are always called to see the person rather than the illness first, and to understand their own religious assumptions regarding the role of the divine in their encounters with others. They can and should work with trained volunteer members of their congregations to help other members who are experiencing mental health challenges,” states part two of the guide, “Faith Leader Support for People with Mental Illness.”
While we highlight this chronic issue each May, it is an ongoing battle for those who suffer. This means that we must keep talking about it.
The Mayo Clinic warns that there are harmful effects to stigmatizing mental illness, which include:
- Reluctance to seek help or treatment.
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others.
- Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing.
- Bullying, physical violence or harassment.
- Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment.
- The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation.
It is important that we normalize checkups. During an interview with the Huffington Post, Actress Kerry Washington said, “I think it’s really important to take the stigma away from mental health. … My brain and my heart are really important to me. I don’t know why I wouldn’t seek help to have those things be as healthy as my teeth.”
So, if you haven’t had one lately, then Psychology Today offers a mental health assessment. It’s a questionnaire that can help to assess if you need to seek out help from a professional.
It’s okay, and I am not judging you. Because I have struggled with depression. Talking about it has helped me, and I think it can help you too.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis and needs to talk to someone, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. To learn more about the campaign to “Stamp Out Stigma” when it comes to mental illness and for resources, click here.
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series this week to call attention to May as Mental Health Awareness Month.