[Editor’s Note: Everyone has mental health experiences on the spectrum between thriving and struggling. Perhaps you (or a friend) are in a season where you need extra mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical support. In this #mentalhealth series, we want to balance personal experience/story with input from mental health and medical professionals. We want to also explore, “How does our faith in Jesus relate to our mental health?” Our desire is to support you as you work towards mental wellbeing.
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I’ve been reflecting on my stigmatization of those with mental health challenges; this article is an invitation for you to pause and reflect along with me.
In times past, the word “stigma” referred to a physical mark of disgrace or discredit. In our current context, stigma refers to being perceived negatively by or set apart from others due to stereotyping.
As I journey toward a greater understanding and acceptance of my mental health challenges with anxiety and depression, I have become more aware of how I often “stigmatize” others who exhibit various forms of mental illness, perceiving them negatively or having prejudice against them—in other words, how I often attach stigma to them.
Perhaps my stigmatization of others’ mental illness is why I struggle so much with hopelessness, distress, and anger when coming to terms with my condition. More than the diagnosis itself, it is my negative interpretations of what my diagnosis means to my identity that cause me to spiral into despair and shame.
- How do you tend to think about people with mental health challenges? How does that affect your own self perception?
- How gentle and kind are you to yourself when you are unwell? Is this healthy?
- What would you like to say to God in this moment about the stigmas you carry?
My stigmatization of mental illness often prevents me from sharing with others or seeking professional help. This was evident the day I walked to the front doors of the outpatient clinic at Vancouver General Hospital for my first group therapy session.
I remember feelings of embarrassment coming over me as I walked towards the old institutionalized concrete entrance. The architecture seemed to conjure up phrases like “insane asylum” or “loony bin,” and it haunted me to think I was now one of those who needed help.
I hoped that no one I knew would see me walking into the mental health ward. I didn’t want anyone to know. It was so humiliating. But with my internal stigmatization of my own mental illness, how was I going to invite my community into my mental health journey?
- When have you felt unable to ask your community for help?
- What prevented you from reaching out?
- How can you give those barriers to God in prayer now?
As I reflect, I’m realizing that my negative perceptions of those with mental health challenges have arisen from some habitual ways of being.
Stereotyping: I falsely believe that people who are mentally ill share certain negative characteristics. For example, I have an internalized notion that individuals who suffer from depression are weak and lazy and should just get their act together.
Holding prejudice: Reinforcing my stereotypes over and over again creates prejudice. Prejudice refers to personal negative attitudes about certain groups of people that are neither fair nor based on reason. After I am exposed to or start to believe stereotypes over time, they become internalized and become part of how I think about and interact with individuals I am stereotyping.
Discriminating: This is when prejudice creates the foundation for how I treat others. I sometimes discriminate against individuals directly or indirectly.
My stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination all work to establish my stigmatization of those with mental health challenges.
- What stereotypes do you hold? When have you treated someone differently because of those beliefs?
- What is one step towards change that God might be inviting you to?
- How can you invite God into your habits and perceptions through prayer?
I am learning more each day about the stigmatization I carry around within me––towards myself and others. I am slowly learning how to recognize, acknowledge, and confess my stigmatization to God so that I can love myself and others the way God intended. Mental health challenges do not need to lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and isolation (even though they easily do). Instead, I’m learning how to extend grace and compassion to others and to myself.
Did you enjoy this article? We encourage you to check out more articles in our #mentalhealth series.