“I’m afraid people would judge me if they knew…”
“I don’t want you to think badly of them…”
These are just a few examples of things I hear over and over in counseling. So many people try to deal with difficult struggles alone, because they are afraid of the response they will get if they try to share or reach out for help. But some burdens are too heavy to carry alone…
I feel honored when people trust me enough to share their secret burdens and I wish I could say their fears of judgement or misunderstanding were unfounded. But alas, that is not currently the case in our society. Don’t misunderstand. As a society we are making great progess with regards to mental health, but we still have further to go. There is still too much stigma surrounding mental health and mental health concerns.
Once or twice I have observed a fascinating reaction when asked what my job is. I replied that I am a mental health counselor and the person said something like, “Oh, that’s great”, as they physically moved their body slightly backwards and away from me, almost as if they were afraid of catching something. I believe they were unaware of the shift, and I think that shows how subtle the stigma against even the phrase “mental health” can be. What we don’t understand can be scary and it can feel more comfortable to pretend mental health doesn’t exist.
The irony of course is we all have some degree of mental health, just the same as we all have some degree of physical health, emotional health, and spiritual health. Some people have physical illness and others have mental illness. Both are real, both are treatable, and there should be no shame in opening up about either. A real danger of the stigma is it often prevents people from seeking the help they need, especially if those around them react negatively when they do try to share.
In the same way that seeking medical attention early on in an illness can lead to better outcomes, seeking mental health treatment early on in a mental illness can also lead to better outcomes for many. Together we must all help remove the stigma of mental health and open the way for people to seek treatment without fear of judgement.
How can you help? Educate yourself about mental health, offer compassion to those who are ill, lend a listening ear without judging, and encourage people to seek treatment early on. Learn healthy coping skills, monitor yourself for signs of mental distress, and seek counseling yourself if you feel the need to lighten your load.
“…these afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.”
“Also let us remember that through any illness or difficult challenge, there is still much in life to be hopeful about and grateful for. We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions!”
He further counseled, “Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love……Though we may feel we are “like a broken vessel,” as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”
You can read the full text of his talk here or watch it below.