Removing Shame From The Mental Health Discussion
This month has been a big one for the mental health community. Not only is May National Mental Health Awareness Month, but this year it has also been marked with the release of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5.
It is possible however that you may not have heard about either of these events. They received light media coverage, and mental health is not exactly a popular conversation topic in the church, even though The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that at least 25% of all Americans are living with at least one diagnosable mental illness. That means at least a quarter of our congregations are living with mental health problems, and yet so many ignore or stigmatize those who are suffering.
It is true that sometimes the Christian community sees mental illness as a result of sin or weak faith, but Laurel Shaler, Ph.D., contributor for the American Association of Christian Counselors, worries more about those who attribute mental illness to direct oppression or possession by the devil or satanic forces that must be stomped out.
While not getting into the controversial and complex topic of possession, it is clear that mental illness should never be confused for that issue in any way. It is also clear how strongly some members of the Christian community view mental illness as shameful, and shame is the absolute worst emotion that can be added on top of the feelings and struggles of a mental health patient. To try to show the church how we can address mental health without shaming the individuals, Shaler made a list of tips.
- Mental Illness is and Illness – The large majority will agree cancer is not a sin. While it can be a result of arguably sinful acts, such as smoking, the cancer itself is not sin. Neither is diabetes. Mental illnesses are the results of imbalanced chemicals in the body, just as diabetes is the result of too little insulin. Neither is sinful, and both are diseases and should be treated as such. Mental illnesses are very real health conditions, and treating them as illegitimate only hurts those we love.
- Educate Others – The biggest hurdle mental health disciplines face are educating the public, especially in areas that are resistant such as churches. Take the time to try to educate those in the church who hold influence, such as pastors and ministerial staff. Educate them on handling crisis, and the resources that are available like suicide prevention telephone lines. If those in power in the church aren’t informed, they won’t be able to help the members of the church in need.
- Recognize that God Supplies All Out Needs – God calls upon us to comfort others, and for us to be available for those who need our support. God supplies all our needs, and often that comes in the form of support from like minded believers. In some cases, God uses you to fill the needs of others’, and as a Christian counselor, you are serving the lord through your support of fellow church goers.