It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
There are some days when I feel like we’re winning the fight against stigma. Days when I hear good news stories like the impact of the Time to Change campaign, or hear a friend tell me that their church was helpful and instrumental in their recovery.
And then I see the news stories.
A pay gap of up to 42% if you suffer with depression or panic attacks.
A staggering 82% of people wouldn’t like their child looked after by someone with depression.
Almost nine out of ten people with mental health problems (87%) reported the negative impact of stigma and discrimination on their lives.
We may have won a few battles, but it seems we are far from winning the war against stigma.
It’s a question I’ve posed many times before; but can you imagine the outrage if these statistics emerged about cancer? Or a physical disability?
I’m also heart broken for the people who, on top of living with often life limiting illnesses, also live under the weight of stigma.
Stigma is ugly, and yet it is often couched in language of concern.
The seemingly innocent comments:
“Is he, ‘okay’ to look after the children?”
“I don’t think she’s ‘robust’ enough for the job”
It’s easy to think that this kind of stigma is harmless, or even just thoughtfulness. The problem is, it often hides deeper and more damaging beliefs about people with mental illness.
People with mental health conditions aren’t weak. Many work demanding jobs with long hours and high levels of responsibility, others need to work more flexibly (myself included) but we’ve got to get away from the idea that having a mental illness means being less capable at life!
The sad truth is, mental illness means you have to fight harder; to prove that you’re not ‘crazy’ or ‘flaky’.
We all have our weak spots, regardless of whether we have a mental illness.
For some, it might be a physical illness.
For others, its difficult family life.
And more often than not, we try to hide them or ignore them.
I’m beginning think however, that there’s another way.
Where weakness isn’t something to escape from, but something to help us fix our eyes heavenwards.
The famous verses of Paul’s in 2 Corinthians 12:9 put it better than anyone could.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
For in resting in our weakness, we can point to our strength.
And stigma cannot stand up against the strength that is found in the Creator.
It’s not that we give up the political and social campaigning for parity of esteem.
It’s that we give ourselves a break – because we’re all weaker than we like to think we are.
But we also have a strength that is stronger than we can conceive.
I still want to see the stigma against mental illness banished – but I believe that when we are at our most worn out and weakest – God shows up.
So let’s keep fighting stigma, we don’t have to do it in our own strength.