Stigma definitely hurts when it comes at us from other people, but I am often struck by the fact that our own internal stigma can cause us the most pain. Maybe we have consciously or unconsciously carried a stigma around mental illness, like “why can’t they just get over it”, or “I would hate to be someone with bipolar disorder” or “depression can’t really last THAT long, can it?” Receiving our own diagnosis or learning of the diagnosis of a friend or family member doesn’t magically erase that stigma.
Instead, beliefs, shame and judgment that may previously have been directed at others, at “those people” or “people like that”, that shame and judgment is now directed at ourselves or our loved ones, and can cause tremendous pain.
It can be a subtle thing. Maybe you used to believe that sure, maybe those folks needed medication, but you would never take medication that altered your mind, you would just pray more, “turn it over to God”, and rise above it.
Until the day you couldn’t, and the doctor said you needed meds, and you knew that life wasn’t working and you needed to try SOMETHING but did that make you weak? Did that mean you didn’t trust God?
Or perhaps others’ anxiety always made you impatient, wondering why they couldn’t just get on with it. Until it was your child struggling with a full-blown panic attack and you could see her fear and pain and you KNEW it was not something she could just “get over.”
Shattering stigma requires the same approach whether its internal stigma, societal stigma, or stigma within the church. Name it for what it is, recognize that it is hurtful, and drag it out into the open, into the light. Speak truth to the lies that stigma tells, and it will lose its power. Be gentle to others who believed the stigma, and gentle to yourself as you work to shatter it.