Lessons in the Valley: Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness

55B34DAF-74D8-42CA-9259-31B0CA7A717BI never imagined that moment would come.  When you have children, you anticipate the first steps, words, and milestones.  This was not a milestone I had foreseen.  No parent ever really does, for that matter.

Don’t misunderstand, I am a huge proponent of professional counseling.  I am a product of professional counseling, praise God.  I think the adults of this crazy world would all be better off if each of us had a doctor, dentist, and a good therapist.  Seriously.

Taking my 13-year-old daughter to see a psychologist was difficult and sad, yet it was a relief.  We knew her physical pain was causing some severe psychological and emotional trauma, but no parent wants to come to terms with the fact that their child has mental health issues.

The world doesn’t want to acknowledge mental health either… until it is too late.

In our current society, if you admit to needing counseling, you tell the world you have problems.  GASP!  If you admit to going to marital counseling, you tell the world your marriage isn’t perfect.  GASP GASP!  There is this stigma with mental health, where, if we admit our need, its a good thing for us, but the perception people have of us changes.  We think, “something is very wrong”, “are they going to snap”, “will they injure themselves or someone else”.  Then we disassociate ourselves because we don’t know how to handle our new perceptions.  News flash: no one has their life altogether.

Those who appear to have it all together, are the ones who are falling apart the most.

I have seen it over and over.  People I admire, idolize, almost grovel at their feet to befriend have this wall of perfection built around them.  Within no time, I witness their facade crumble, dramatically.  I have learned that those who have walls are hiding.  Until the wall comes tumbling down, healing will never happen.  That’s a whole other blog post.

I don’t want my daughter to be that kind of woman.  I want her to have healthy boundaries, but no solid walls.  I want her to be unafraid to show her weaknesses, but face them with a vengeance.  I never want her to feel shame for her imperfections, yet rely on God to help make her whole.

We found ourselves sitting on a counselor’s couch, discussing her extreme anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as a result of her chronic pain.  OCD is such a misused term.  Many people claim to be OCD about organization skills.  “I’m so OCD about the way I fold my laundry.”  Not all people with OCD have a need to lock a door repeatedly or wash their hands over and over.  OCD deals with an obsessive thought that replays like a broken record.   The compulsion is how the person deals with that thought.  My daughter would deal with her obsessions with anxiety attacks and hitting herself.  The attacks would increase her pain, continuing the pain/anxiety cycle.

Thankfully, therapy has helped her, to an extent.  She acknowledges her triggers and has found less destructive ways the cope with her obsessions.  Therefore, we will continue seeking therapy, getting her the help she needs.  As she gets older, this self-awareness will help her know when to get help and that her need for help is okay.  Other types of treatments have also helped in her healing, which I will discuss in a later post. That being said, and although we believe in a God who heals, we are fully prepared to allow medicine to help her heal, if necessary.  Anxiety medicine has never been off the table.  Let me also say, mental illness has nothing to do with spiritual strength.  My daughter’s lack of faith or spiritual discipline has nothing to do with chemicals in her brain which have increased her illness.  Can her faith in God help her cope?  Yes, but sometimes medicine is also necessary and we are fully prepared to go there.

Mental health is invisible.  While physical health pushes us to exercise and get regular check-ups, mental health often gets pushed to the side.  Let’s break the mental health stigma.  Let’s work on being self-aware of our own mental needs.  Let’s encourage our family and friends to get help when life seems to be spiraling a little out of control. Yet, continue to love and support them as they get the treatment needed.

I know this is a sensitive subject for some.  I hope this post encourages those with mental illness and those who may feel shame because of it.  Reach out, get help, ignore the perceptions of others.  God wants you healed and whole.  There are counselors who can help you get there.

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NEXT POST ~ Lessons in the Valley:  Getting to the Other Side

PREVIOUS POST ~ Lessons in the Valley: Choosing What’s Doable

Graphic Credit: Sydney Lively

6 thoughts on “Lessons in the Valley: Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness

  1. Thank you for this important message. Therapy has been helpful for me and for some of those whom I love deeply. It is hard to take the step to acknowledge you need help outside of yourself, but so freeing and important. Thanks for sharing your journey!

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your journey with your daughter. There IS such stigma surrounding counseling and mental health–but I remember when I first when to counseling, my counselor saying “you’re not here because something is wrong with you, you’re here because something is right”–in other words having the self-awareness that you can’t do life on your own. I pray that we continue to experience a shift in the way our culture sees mental health and counseling–and I believe people like you, being brave enough to share your story is a big part of that.

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  3. I’m glad you’re writing about your journey through this. My husband has dealt with anxiety and panic attacks, and there is no reasoning with him when he has one. God used medication to help him get out of the cycle he was in, and thankfully he was then able to get off of it. There was no shame in that!

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    • No ma’am! No shame! Medicine is one of those “proceed with caution” routes and I am thankful for it. So glad he is able to manage it on his own. We hope to get to that point before meds, but they are always there if we need them.

      Liked by 1 person

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