So, Molly Mormon. She's sweet and kind. Never says anything bad, never appears anything but content with her lot in life. She doesn't yell, is never depressed, joyfully and easily controls her emotions, and is always a ray of sunshine. She's never, ever a burden on her PETER PRIESTHOOD husband.
If Molly was in a car accident and only has one leg? Poor, sweet Molly, bravely pushing on! If Molly was born diabetic? Poor, dear Molly, and yet she cooks the most amazing sugar free desserts! If Molly has a heart condition and has limited physical activities allowed? Poor, darling Molly, the progress she makes every day is a marvel! If Molly openly acknowledges her struggles with postpartum depression? Get away, you could contaminate my life! If it is known Molly suffers from bipolar, schizophrenia, or an eating disorder? She's pitied, but from afar, because every enlightened person knows mental illness is contagious.
Which brings me to my point. Why are physical ailments/disabilities pitied, and the sufferer of them almost championed in her struggle; but those with mental illness ostracized, or held at arms length? Why are those with mental disorders treated like they were caused by sin (or God's wrath)? As far as I know, nobody that suffers from a mental illness actually chose it. I, for one, certainly never went through the DSM-IV and said "Wow. That bipolar...sounds so amazing! What do I have to do to make it a part of my life?" If there is no shame in taking aspirin or antibiotics to keep the body healthy, why is there stigma attached to antidepressants and anti-psychotics to keep the mind healthy?
And it's not just a Mormon thing. This story talks about a Baptist Reverend who couldn't talk about his daughter's suicide for years, because of the stigma it has. Can you imagine hurting for years, and not being able to talk about something, because people would question your worth as a person, and ordination as a religious leader? “Too often in churches there is this belief that you have to be perfect — that you have to keep a smile on your face when your world is falling apart,” [David McKnight, a Dr. with Celebrate Recovery, a Baptist organisation] said. Or this quote, by Ed Stetzer, president of Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
“We need to stop hiding mental illness,” Stetzer said.
Stetzer said some evangelical Christians think that if they pray enough or become more spiritual, then their mental illness will go away. But they don’t look at other health issues the same way.
“People who become a Christian and have a broken leg will still have a broken leg,” he said. “We tend to think that Jesus fixes what is in our heads, and medicine fixes what is in our body. Sometimes what is in our heads needs medicine."
I wonder if some of the stigma comes from the New Testament. Christ cast demons out of a boy. There's been speculation that the boy suffered from Dissociation Identity Disorder (or Multiple Personalities), and not demons. But the story is still the same. Person with terrible mental illness was miraculously healed by Christ. If it worked for that kid, then it can work for me, right? All I have to do is pray more, read more, etc.
But you know what? Mental illness doesn't work that way. It's a problem with chemistry, or wiring, or a traumatic childhood. And it's very unlikely you can pray away memories, or fast enough to fix your dopamine receptors. If it were that easy, do you honestly think people would choose to still suffer? I can't stress this enough: Mental illness is not a choice, or a result of sin. It's not a game, and seldom a plea for attention. It's a real, physically present, crippling illness that affects both the sufferer, and their families and friends.
As someone who suffers from bipolar and borderline personality disorder, I can bear testimony of the fact that these disorders are, forgive the language, scary as hell. I honestly don't know how I'm going to react in any situation, or at any time. And once my emotions take over (and they do, often), I physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually cannot turn it off without intense effort. Emotions, especially big emotions, are physically and mentally draining. Sometimes they turn into a big feedback loop, where my anger makes me scared, which makes me sad, which makes me guilty, which makes me angry. And I can't always stop this. Sometimes my poor husband has to work hard to calm me down. Sometimes I go to the pantry and stuff myself with sweets, just to get enough of a sugar buzz to kill the spiral. Sometimes I even give in, and just blow up about something inconsequential. Why would I choose this? What loving God would punish with this?
In church, there's often talk about "Bearing one another's burdens". But it's funny to see how quickly other's idea of helping to "bear the burdens of mental health" react with fear, disgust, pity, and isolation. Yes, being on the recieving end of mental illness is frightening. Yes, it's hard to face what you don't understand. So if your job/calling requires you to deal (for lack of a more polite word) with someone suffering from mental illness, DO YOUR RESEARCH. A Wikipedia search takes about 10 minutes. Or this book from Deseret. Basically, do whatever it takes to get even a bit of knowledge about mental disorders.
If we claim to be a church that loves and takes care of it's people, then we should at least TRY to live up to that. 10 minutes of research might not make much difference in your life, but taking the time to learn the facts, instead of the stigma, will mean the world to those who suffer from mental illness. If nothing else, it will earn you more Molly Points!