Year ago, I stopped by my aunt's house on my way home from the University of Alabama. My aunt's elderly mother-in-law was with her and told her I had just driven in from Tuscaloosa. Miss Mac's eyebrows raised, and Aunt Pat started to laugh, knowing that the older lady has misinterpreted the reason for my time in Tuscaloosa.
When I was young, it was common for kids to tease others by throwing up the locations of Alabama's state mental hospital, Bryce in Tuscaloosa, and Georgia's state mental hospital at Milledgeville. As an adult, I wonder how those kids knew of these facilities. Perhaps because someone they knew had spent time in one of them?
Society's awareness of mental health issues and our ability to treat them have advanced tremendously since the mid-1800s when states established state hospitals for those afflicted with mental illness. However, in our churches, the issue of mental illness still carries a powerfully negative stigma.
Zelia Baugh, executive director of psychiatric services for Baptist Health System in Birmingham, said, “There is still a societal stigma when you have a mental illness diagnosis. People don’t want to have mental illness or the stigma associated with it so they want to deny it or treat it on their own.” (emphasis added)
What a true statement. No one asks for mental illness to be part of their life experience. And it can be very hard to be honest about the struggle, especially among families of faith. Baugh noted that the stigma of mental illness can be especially strong in churches, where pastors are reluctant to talk about it and families fear the judgment of others if they are open about their struggle.
“If you’ve got diabetes, cancer or heart disease everybody’s all about making sure that people are praying for you so you have an instant support system,” Baugh said. “It’s very different when you are talking about mental health issues.”
As disciples of Christ, our first call is to love--Love God and love our neighbors. Loving those affected by mental illness is hard, but as believers, we aren't called to the easy life. How can we love those afflicted by mental illness? Here are some tips from Steve Trader of Pathways Christian Counseling:
Tips for Those Who Have Family, Friends with Mental Illness
May we all be more compassionate to those who suffer and love them as Christ loves us.
I am a regular contributor to The Alabama Baptist newspaper, and I also write and edit for several religious, business and educational outlets through my business, McWhorter Media and Marketing.
One of the greatest privileges of being a writer is the opportunity to share the stories of others with a larger audience. I love to do that!
Sharing my own stories is much more challenging, though no less important to making sense of the challenges of Faith and Family in everyday life.
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