Why it’s important for all of us to make it easy and safe for people to get help for mental health issues
I learned something this week that drove home both the importance of seeking treatment for mental health symptoms, AND the importance of maintaining hope for better treatment in the future. Most of the time, symptoms of mental illness are just that, but occasionally they may have surprising physical causes.
According to my mother’s physician, low levels of B12 can cause symptoms that mimic mental illness, and if untreated can cause dementia. (Not my mom’s issue, but this doc tests all of her older patients!) (Not that I’m saying my mom is elderly. Hi, Mom!)
The doctor believes that tragically, in past years, many elderly people in mental institutions were actually suffering from B12 deficiency. Today, it’s a simple blood test to confirm it, and injections to treat.
This same week I saw this article about another treatable physical ailment that also masquerades as mental illness:
We MUST encourage people with mental health issues to get good medical treatment. There is amazing research into the physical illnesses of the brain happening right now. Because mental illness IS physical illness!!!
Who knows what other unexpected and treatable conditions we’ll discover in the future? Get help, and have hope. That’s the word for today. (And yes, my mama will be getting regular B12 injections from this day forward!)
This whole Shattering Stigma deal started with stories, or more specifically with reactions to stories – the stories I’d tell of my family’s journey, and the stories that came back to me from others. Too many of the stories I heard were stories of secrecy, shame, isolation and fear…….
Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church
Saturday, March 11, 2017 – Lake Grove Presbyterian Church
Y’all, it’s gonna be good……we’re going to talk about stuff we don’t talk about in the church very often, hard things, and we are going to do it with grace, and love, curiosity and integrity. We’re going to talk about different mental health disorders, like addiction, bipolar disorder, anxiety and PTSD.
If you’ve never experienced a Shattering Stigma event, you gotta come. If you’ve been to a Shattering Stigma event, you gotta come, because this one is different. Same amazing stories, different format. Breakout sessions. Mindfulness training!
So register now, HERE. And watch this space for peeks at our program and our speakers.
(Pssst…..know someone who should be there, but can’t swing the $40? Including yourself? Money is NEVER an barrier for attending Shattering Stigma events. Just email Tara at firstname.lastname@example.org. Scholarships very available.)
See you on March 11th.
“Mental illness? Me? No, I’ve never encountered that…” At the time we first took in my nieces as foster kids nine years ago, and began our journey of learning about trauma and severe mental illness, I think I would have told you that I didn’t really have any personal experience with mental illness. It was just a sad or scary thing that happened to other people.
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting in preparation for a keynote talk I’m preparing, and I’ve realized that in fact before the girls ever came to us, I had already had several encounters with mental illness in my life, scary, sad or frustrating encounters that had written themselves into my heart without really registering as such in my memory.
- The odd, strange, and then scary little girl at my first sleep-away camp, an 8- or 9-year-old girl who didn’t fit in, who heard things we could not hear, ran away from the counselors and then tried to hurt people.
- The trauma of the timid little girl in my sixth grade class who showed up to school with the rope marks of her father’s anger on her neck.
- The shock and fear of an angry punch thrown at my father’s face, a punch that broke his glasses and his heart as my father saw the uncomprehending madness and hate in the eyes of his childhood best friend, whom we’d stopped by to visit on a vacation.
- My own little brother, born with severe ADHD and later plagued by anxiety and symptoms of OCD, possibly caused by witnessing another child’s abuse by a Scout leader; and the broken young girl with whom he would fall in love, a childhood victim of chronic abuse who would leave my brother for her children’s abuser.
- A high school friend, a boy whose mother was an alcoholic, a boy who used needles and matches to write his hidden pain on his arms and hands, who openly self-harmed before we knew what that was, or why we should be concerned.
- The bright, handsome, funny and sensitive brother of another high school friend (a pretty great guy whom I would later marry), lost to schizophrenia and suicide before I ever had the chance to meet him.
- A college roommate who struggled with incapacitating depression that prevented her from even packing her things at the end of the school year.
- My own lifelong best friend who struggles with ongoing bouts of depression that have flattened her spirit and frustrated me at my own helplessness to help.
The truth is we’ve all probably had similar encounters with mental illness, moments that may have left us afraid, confused, or feeling helpless.
I have found, however, that when we learn to approach those moments with love, dignity, simple skills and awareness, we can turn them into lifegiving moments that can nurture others and leave us feeling more competent and loving.
That’s why I’m so excited about our upcoming annual regional Shattering Stigma conference, in which we’ll be talking about tough subjects like porn and sex addiction, PTSD, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders, as well as learning new skills in mindfulness that we can ALL use everyday.
So how about you? When did you first meet mental illness?
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.
There are two Shattering Stigma with Stories mental health conferences coming up this fall, and registration is now open. Register now, and tell your friends and family about these exciting opportunities to really learn to understand more about the experience of life with mental health challenges, and how you can help.
- Rolling Hills Community Church, Tualatin, OR, October 29, 2016. Click here to register.
- Hear stories on living with severe anxiety, eating disorder, bipolar disorder and depression. Learn important suicide prevention tools, and hear about the journey of family members walking through mental illness
- Willamette Christian Church, West Linn, November 12, 2016. Click here to register.
- Learn about the lifelong impacts of trauma on the brain, on living with PTSD, bipolar disorder and depression. Learn important suicide prevention tools, and hear about coping with the aftermath of sexual addiction.
Loving someone with mental illness well can be brutally difficult. As a family member of loved ones with mental illness, I am well aware that sometimes I’ve been part of the problem. Sometimes, no matter how much I loved them, I haven’t known how to help. Occasionally, out of my own fear or anxiety or lack of skills, I’ve even made it worse.
I’ve worked really hard to learn how to best love my family members with mental illness, and I’ve learned that although it can be scary and uncertain, it can make all the difference.
For a person with mental health challenges, just having one person in their life that is a constant loving presence can be central to their ability to recover and heal. 1 in 4 adults will experience mental illness at some point in their lives, so unless you are a hermit, you will have an opportunity at some point in your life to be someone’s “one”. That’s why at the upcoming Shattering Stigma regional conference on January 30, we are focusing on practical helping skills, how to have hard conversations, and how best to love people with mental health issues. (Registration is open now!)
Today, I want you to hear from Curtis Rockhold. His wife Kelcey spoke powerfully at last year’s Shattering Stigma conference about her experience with schizoaffective disorder. She is also an inspiring, amazing writer, and I highly recommend you read through her blog. You will be changed.
Kelcey’s “one” is her husband Curtis, and on her blog he shares a little of his experience walking alongside Kelcey as they learn to live a life of healing and love alongside her illness. Check it out, and then go register for the conference so you are ready to be someone’s “one”!
Read it now:
Now go register for the conference!
Historic. A sea change. Momentous. Those are the words that come to mind when I reflect on the last several days at The Gathering on Mental Health & the Church, hosted this last week by Saddleback Church and leaders Rick and Kay Warren.
I made the trip to Saddleback with two other Shattering Stigma team members, and we were hoping to find like-minded activists and best practices, or even ANY other practices, as it has been difficult finding and connecting with other mental health ministry programs.
What we found was a truly inspiring gathering of 2200 people (with thousands more around the world watching online) determined to do better by individuals and families affected by mental health challenges, to change the conversation and shatter the stigma around mental illness, and to learn more about the latest in brain science, trauma-informed care, and the special role churches can play.
We found an impressive program filled with a “Who’s Who” of national leaders, all eager to encourage those of us in the Church to step up, get educated and advocate for better programs and policies, but also eager to tell us what a critical role we could play, one person at a time, in creating community and relationship in the lives of vulnerable individuals.
It is a strange paradox. On the one hand, many in the faith community either ignore or silence those experiencing a mental health crisis, or blame them for their illness and the sins they must have committed to earn it or the lack of faith from which it must result, instead of recognizing the very real biological causes of mental illness, either nature, nurture or trauma.
On the other hand, and sometimes at the same time, to the degree we do acknowledge the physical and medical underpinnings of mental illness, faith communities have too easily ceded our roles and responsibilities in the areas in which we can claim the most transformative powers—areas of hope, purpose, the inherent worth of each individual and their value in the community.
It is clear that those are roles the Church must play if we are to make a difference, if we are to be truly effective in standing alongside our brothers and sisters who live with mental health challenges.
Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay lost their son to suicide after he struggled, and they struggled, for many years with his mental illness. They could have retreated inside their pain and kept their grief private. They could have used the tragedy to further the building of a Saddleback empire. Instead, they chose to use their pain to inform how they would help others. They would use their platform to magnify the effects of their loss to help ensure that other families get help. They chose to enter into others’ pain while still healing from their own, and as a consequence something extraordinarily special came to pass last week.
Pastors, youth leaders, ministry volunteers, nonprofit workers and mental health practitioners heard from these grieving parents, and they heard from the Director of NIH’s National Institute on Mental Health, the US Surgeon General, from Congressman Patrick Kennedy, from the Chief of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and from the Catholic Diocese of Orange County, NAMI, and more.
There was a clear and palpable sense of history, of change, and of action. The director of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference predicted this would and should be the next act for the Church’s social justice activism, akin to the Civil Rights movement.
It was exciting and humbling to be a part of it, and over the next several days I will be sharing with you specifics from the various speakers and workshops, ideas and takeaways that we’ll be incorporating into future Shattering Stigma events. Because this much was made clear to me—the dialogue opened by Shattering Stigma with Stories in a church can be a critically healing and empowering event that will help propel that church family forward in their journey towards effectively loving all in their midst.
Seems like everything has a week – National Donut Day, Speak Like a Pirate Day (a personal favorite in my house), even National Pickle Day (doubt me? it’s November 14). This week, however, is one with a purpose to get behind. This first week of October is recognized as Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Some folks don’t like to focus on the illness part, and in fact the words we use may be changing, as many mental health advocates are moving away from the term “mental illness” to focus more on using terms such as mental health, mental health challenges, or brain health.
Doesn’t matter what you call it really, as long as you educate yourself and you help educate others about the need to ask for help, to better understand mental illness, to break the stigma, and to hope for recovery. I remember the first time I sat in a room of other mental health advocates and family members and I heard someone say that recovery from severe mental illness was possible.
I first heard that revelatory statement easily YEARS into my families journey with my nieces, years in which we were left to feel that their disorders were their future.
That’s why I’m so excited to be spending this week in California, attending The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church at Saddleback Church, a conference organized by Rick Warren, his wife and their church.
Along with two of my Shattering Stigma with Stories team members, I’m looking forward to meeting other like-minded advocates, and finding best practices—really any practices—of integrating the best of mental health advocacy into communities of faith. As we have worked to develop the Shattering Stigma conferences, we have been hard-pressed to find many other programs or efforts, so we have high hopes.
I’m planning to share a bit each day of what we’re learning, and I can’t wait to incorporate what we hear into Shattering Stigma!
First, a huge thank you to New Hope Community Church, the hosts of our most recent event on May 30. We had a great day, hearing moving and powerful stories about depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and eating disorders, among other challenging experiences of mental health.
Those who attended were deeply impacted:
“I think seeing how mental illness impacts every person in the family in so many different ways was one of the most helpful parts of the conference.”
“I was so very encouraged and was inspired… “
“I relearned how not alone people are who struggle in areas of mental health.”
“I loved all the speakers! I was able to get insight about a variety of common struggles as well as some I am not so familiar with, like schizoaffective disorder.”
So now what? Where will Shattering Stigma go next? We are planning for the next year now, and seeking communities of faith that would be interested in hosting this conference. Interested? Contact me, Shattering Stigma founder Tara Rolstad.