This has been an important week for those who suffer from mental illness and for those of us who love them.
Stigma of Mental Illness
The Role of the Faith Community
by: Gunnar Christiansen, M.D.
Stigma produces silence. Silence allows stigma to go on unabated. We do need more than talk to stop stigma, but it would be a huge step toward its elimination if the voices of those affected by mental illness could be heard.
Unfortunately silence does have consequences. When we do not go to our clergy person, we allow stigma to be the winner. Our clergy person is not educated by us and we miss an opportunity for spiritual support.
I am thankful for the advocacy of those that do feel comfortable in disclosing such personal information to the general public. Nevertheless, I do not wish to contribute guilt to someone that desires to remain silent and already has a heavy burden.
It seems that avoidance by individuals and families to reveal the existence of mental illness in their lives is often justified, but we as a nation should feel awful about this apparent necessity.
It is amazing how many people who have a mental illness or have it in their family sit in lonely silence until they hear someone like us tell our story. It may only be privately to us that they reveal the existence of mental illness in their life, but it is a start in their releasing this burden and a significant step in their healing process. It is in our own congregations that we have the best opportunity to have such a personal touch with those that have been silenced by stigma.
The most powerful antidote for the internal effects of stigma and discrimination is spiritual strength. Reinforcement of the conviction that God loves us and is with us even in our most difficult times is of utmost importance.
Spiritual strength will diminish, however, unless it is constantly nurtured through giving and receiving loving care in our relationships with others. Thus it is of major importance that each of us attempt to develop a welcome and spiritually nourishing environment for those affected by mental illness in our own place of worship.
Unless we accept this challenge, unless we accept this opportunity, unless we accept this responsibility, I believe the vast majority of our congregations will go on sleeping and stigma will continue to flourish. Without the active involvement of the Faith Community, NAMI may be able to trim the branches of stigma, but it is extremely unlikely that we will be able to destroy its roots.
View the entire text of this plenary speech entitled "Stigma of Mental Illness - The Role of the Faith Community." Follow the link: http://www.nami.org/MSTemplate.cfm?Section=Stigma2&Site=FaithNet_NAMI&Template=/ContentManagement/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=32306
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