You’ve fallen down a flight of stairs and break a bone. You call 911 for help and are soon rushed to the hospital.
When you arrive at the Emergency Room, instead of getting immediate help, you’re told that you need to wait your turn because your injury isn’t that severe. When you ask for painkillers, you’re told that you don’t really need them and that you need to stop feeling pain. Instead of being consoled my friends and family, you’re told to get over it and stop being dramatic.
Many would describe the scenario as unjust and feel outraged for receiving such treatment. Unfortunately, this type of scenario is all too common among patients who suffer mental health issues.
No one would think twice if someone went to the doctor for a broken leg, but if someone sought help for an anxiety disorder or depression, many would find a problem.
I’ve experienced this kind of stigma firsthand.
During my second year of college, I went to the ER complaining of breathing difficulties, chest pain and a rapid heartbeat. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was having a panic attack. After a series of tests that ruled out the worst, the doctor approached me. He was annoyed. There was nothing wrong with me. I had wasted his time. It rang loud and clear on his face. Then he proceeded to tell me why I better “get over” my feelings like a big girl.
I was humiliated.
My encounter with stigma in the healthcare system was extreme and painful, but what devastates me more is that I know I am not alone. I have heard many similar stories from individuals who suffer from anxiety and depression about subpar attention and care from healthcare staff.
The way we discuss mental health as a society is partly to blame. Over time, we have perpetuated a dangerous stigma against those with mental health issues that minimizes their challenges and ignores addressing the root of it which is often a chemical imbalance or natural disposition that is outside of their control.
So what can we do to reverse this stigma?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is estimated that one in five people in the United States experiences mental health issues. Given this staggering statistic, it’s time that our minds and attitudes undergo a drastic change.
Change our minds.
We need an attitude adjustment.
Start with answering a few basic questions that will help you understand the nature of these challenges that some of our brothers and sisters in the Church face.
Mental health is sometimes an elusive idea for many because it involves measuring the wellness of unseen factors like our emotional, psychological and social well-being. The state of our mental health can be affected by stress, our environment, age and other factors. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we relate to other people and make choices.
Mental health and physical health are closely correlated. Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health challenges and a deteriorating mental health can also impact one’s own physical well-being.
Many factors that exist outside of the control of an individual person can have a significant impact on mental health like feeling loved, sense of family identity or abuse.
Ending the stigma that surrounds someone who seeks to find support or treatment for the wellbeing of their mental health will require a societal paradigm shift.
Change our labels.
For generations, mental health was looked upon with contempt. People who suffered from depression and anxiety were often labeled as “unstable.”
Labeling is a main culprit for why stigma is so prevalent today. The act of labeling starts in the mind. It starts with people’s attitudes about someone or something, no matter how misinformed or incorrect and manifests itself in an outward way.
It’s important to recognize that these labels are false understandings of the people around us. They do not reflect the person in their entirety and we do a disservice to one another by putting each other in these boxes.
Putting the label of “anxious” on someone who already struggles with anxiety disorder is extremely discouraging and can tempt that person into believing that they are defined by their disorder.
I would suggest that we are not anxious.
We are people who struggle with anxiety disorder. That is all. Anxiety does not define us; it is something we overcome every day.
After all, we are not defined by the struggles in our lives whether their mental, emotional, or external. As children of God, our identity is provided by the One who gives us strength to rise beyond our circumstances, our emotions and our trials. In that overcoming, we press on together.
Rachel Moreland is a US expat, writer and coffee lover living in Scotland. Check out her blog - With love from Rachel – for more articles on faith & mental health.