Stop stigmatizing mental illness

By: Lucell Larawan

I could not forget a Sunday morning in Jaro, Iloilo City. The service of a Christian church was going well with its usual worship songs when suddenly, a lady was led out of the congregation. She may have uttered distracting things causing the congregation to stop and look. But the ushers could have tolerated that. Anyway, is not a charismatic gathering a little bit “distracting” to those who belong to the fundamental groups; yet in the plurality of worship expressions, they still tolerate each other and unite with a single prayer in the end? Therefore, no one would be concerned if someone utters a prayer louder or burst into tears. Those practices are the norms in charismatic churches, although, in other spiritual organizations, they are extreme. In that mentally challenged lady’s case, the ushers and those who authorized them were not just dealing with a culturally deviant behavior: they were encountering a “prayer” from the helpless that could have been part of the praise and worship. But the ushers took her outside. Why?

Even Jesus did not loathe the blind, the lepers and the mentally challenged. He reached out to them and did not make them feel dishonored or defamed. So why would some be intolerant of the paupers? In my view, not caring enough is a behavior that assumes a museum of saints for a church. Oh, but what saint could ignore the poor and the needy? Maybe such an organization that stigmatizes the needy can be better-described as a museum of the “better-than-others”, self-centered influence chasers? I hope churches do not downgrade to that level.

A church practice reflects what society does. Stigmatizing the mentally ill is certainly one of them. It means people can get flu, a broken leg or hyperacidity; however, no one should be sick mentally. That is a no-no? By the way, what is the difference between a fever and a depression? Are these not all signs of a human race eaten by viruses as a result of depravity?

Before anyone puts down a person who suffers from anxiety disorder or depression, he should look at the mirror: is he not subject to the sickness? Is he or she always spared from the sufferings common to men? Is one so special that having schizophrenia is just for others? Think twice. No one should make a negative remark about someone’s mental illness or treatment.

We might be surprised that mental illness is more prevalent than we thought. One-fourth of a population may experience it at one point. There are 450 million people in the world who are mentally sick. We should not say that only a few are affected.

If people continue to look down on the mentally challenged, it may result in the victim’s reluctance to seek treatment. It may also lead to a lack of understanding by family, friends and co-workers; fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities; physical violence, harassment or bullying; health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover one’s mental illness treatment; and the belief that one cannot improve his situation.

Are people not conscience-stricken if they could have prevented a friend or family from committing suicide but did not help? In lieu of offering a helping hand, they might have become a hindrance of one’s treatment or have bullied a sick person.

Stop looking down on the feeble. We all are weak at some point in our lives.