I remember when I went to therapy for the first time after wanting to take my own life.
You see I had a severe postpartum mood disorder and it was so bad I wanted to take my life. My therapist had me fill out a form to list people I would contact in case I had suicidal thoughts.

I remember feeling so much shame for needing that list.
For needing help…I felt horrible about the fact that what used to be easy and normal for me took all the strength I had. But over time my brain and heart have healed.
I still struggle with OCD and it’s not easy but I’m much better than I’ve ever been.
People laugh and make fun but if they knew the work I’ve put in to get to where I am today, they probably wouldn’t laugh.
I don’t say this for pity but to create more awareness and to help people realize that mental illness is real and that it’s not funny. It’s not the person who’s suffering with it fault and that if they could will themselves better they would have by now. And it’s not something they have because they aren’t spiritual enough…my goodness I want the Christian community to stop treating people who suffer from mental illness as if they are not good enough believers or as if they just haven’t prayed enough. I have heard some incredibly painful comments from Christians regarding mental illness that has made the stigma around mental illness that much stronger. (That’s enough conversation–I’ll be sure to write about that later.)

There’s a huge and ugly stigma around mental illness and it’s so widespread that people who have access to free therapy still don’t take advantage of it.

People are afraid of being judged, ridiculed, embarrassed or losing respect, so they often suffer and suffer miserably through it. They hope that over time it will work itself out, but unfortunately, mental illness doesn’t work that way.

People need love and support to get better.

Maybe you’re not struggling or have ever struggled with a mental illness. But you know someone who has. Either way, there are things we can do to help remove the stigma around mental health and encourage people to get the help they need.

In fact, here are 5 things that can encourage people to get the mental health support that they need. (This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start)

We normalize it by talking about it more positively.

The other day someone congratulated me for sharing my experience with mental illness and told me how brave I was for doing so. I told her I wasn’t always so brave, but soon I realized that in showing my scar that someone who still has the wound can have hope for healing too. We need more people to show us their scars so that others have hope that healing is possible. But also so that they know and others may know that they are not alone. When we normalize the conversation by sharing stories of healing, sharing resources that can be helpful and by speaking more positively about mental illness (such as not blaming the person who’s suffering from it, criminalizing them or making fun), then we can begin to remove the stigma. It will take time, but it will take all of us to make this change.

Stop calling things a mental illness that is not.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand is being confused by someone who declares that they have OCD when they are not. Because they are just saying that to describe that they are organized or orderly. When people say that they are OCD (which you don’t have to identify with an illness when you have it, you can have OCD, but you’re not OCD…that’s another conversation too), I ask them if they mean they have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. And every time the answer is “no”. Then why are you saying that? People who have OCD would never wish it upon themselves because it’s a debilitating and crippling illness that destroys lives. It’s not about a clean house. To remove the stigma around mental health we need our culture to stop using phrases like “I’m so OCD” when you want to describe that you’re clean. And people should stop saying things like, “this weather is so bipolar”. That’s ridiculous and harmful to say to those or around those who actually suffer from this illness. No one says I am so cancer” when they don’t have it because no one would wish that on themselves. People wouldn’t laugh and would think you were insensitive to those who actually suffer from cancer. The same should be true for calling things a mental illness that is not. It’s harmful and insensitive.

Stop pretending

Have you ever felt sad or worried about something, but didn’t want to tell anyone because you didn’t want to seem less than perfect or happy? I believe in feeling our feelings, meaning allow yourself to feel what you feel for that moment so you can process what’s underneath it. Our feelings are not to be disregarded or shunned away because we don’t like feeling them. And we shouldn’t disregard other people feelings either. Our feelings are often a signal of what’s going on in us, and if we give ourselves and others permission to feel them then processing would be much more possible. That means we have to stop pretending with our friends and family that we’re okay when we’re not.  My friends who I trust and who I know love me, know that if they ask me how I’m doing that I’m going to be honest. Because if I pretend that I’m okay when I’m not, then who is that helping?  It’s not helping me or anyone else. That only sends a message that they too should pretend too.

Stop glorifying the unhealthy

Our culture is obsessed with measurable success and by any means necessary. People will invest everything they have to attain financial gain while suffering immensely inside and in their relationships. For what? What good is it to have everything that money can buy, but nothing that it can’t.

Somehow we’ve misplaced our values and collectively value more of what doesn’t matter and less of what actually does. And this is making us all stressed and unhealthy in every way. We have to stop glorifying unhealthy lifestyles such as working/hustling around the clock, “no time for friends or family, “I’m about my coins” and chasing money and things over all else.  Money is a great tool that can create serious impact in our lives and the lives of those around us, but it’s not everything. Money is not the path to happiness. Healthy relationships will lead to joy, especially the relationship you have with yourself. How do you talk to yourself? How do you treat yourself? How do you allow others to treat you? All of this affects your mental health.

We all need help; let’s all get it.

I don’t believe there’s one person who couldn’t benefit from the right kind of therapy for them. We all have issues, pain, unsettled issues and experiences that we need to unpack and process. Yet with our perfection driven world and packed schedules, we hardly have time to have a conversation with the people within our four walls. But the rates of those of suffering from mental illness are steadily rising and if we keep at the rate we’re going as a culture we won’t be in good shape to enjoy anything in our lives. When we get help and work on our heart issues and realize that we all have our stuff and all could benefit from working with someone to help us deal, then we all benefit.

I believe that life is about relationships and those relationships matter. So if I work on me and you work on you, then when we come together we’re better and stronger together, which means our relationship is better and can create more impact. It’s a win-win. I don’t think you should wait to get help when something is wrong.  It’s good to do it then, but help is best when it’s experienced as a long-term commitment. It doesn’t always need to look the same. For example, help may look like therapy in one season in your life, coaching in another or attending regular retreats in another. The point is to continually invest in yourself.

I have been to therapy and worked with coaches and I’m so much better for it.
I coach clients all the time in issues of the heart and mindset and I’ve witnessed their transformations too.

Don’t wait to get help. Get help now!

And I want to add that you don’t have to have a diagnosed mental illness to benefit from getting help to work on yourself. We all have heart issues that deserve healing and wholeness.

We all can be a part of the solution of creating a better and more nurturing environment for people who suffer from mental illness. But it will take all of us.

What saved me

I look forward to living in a world where people can talk openly and freely about mental health as they can any other “socially acceptable” medical issue. This way people can feel less shame and more supported in getting the help they need. I thank God that I didn’t take my life, but I was very close to making that devasting decision. But thankfully it was getting the help that saved me.

I’m thankful for my faith, family, friends, and therapy…self-care
And now, I’m unrelenting about self-care because it keeps me alive.

So if you’re reading this and you know you’re overdue for some self-care, then I have something I created that can help you.  I’ve created a self-care workbook that invites you to take an in-depth study of what truly fills you. This way you can take care of yourself better and experience the benefit of great self-care.  You can grab it here.

If this article was helpful to you, then consider sharing it with others as I’m sure it will be helpful to them too.

What ways would you add to this list to help remove the stigma around mental illness?

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