I stood in front of almost 300 strangers and told them I have a mental illness. I shared a bit of my story, getting on and off meds, and my refusal to let the stigma of mental illness shame me. I only took about 10 minutes to speak. Not a lot of time given the conference I was speaking at was a daylong event. But it was 10 minutes I won’t forget. As I went to sit down, I was shaking, and it was then that I realized just how nervous I had been standing up and sharing a bit of my story.
I was afraid, but I faced that fear, got brave, and spoke.
I wasn’t the only one who got brave that day; I wasn’t the only one who spoke out. It was a day filled with stories, personal accounts, questions, answers, and brave people giving us a glimpse into their life with mental illness.
The conference was called “Shattering Stigma”, and I believe that it helped to do just that for some people. I believe that because a handful of people got brave and shared their stories, the walls of the stigmas that surround mental illness in the church and the community were began to be broken down in some mighty ways.
Like it or not, mental illness still carries some powerful stigmas with it, especially within the church. People think that mentally ill people are just weak or lazy, that medication isn’t really necessary, or that the mentally ill are demon possessed/oppressed and have something lacking in their faith. If you don’t believe me that these (and more) stigmas surround mental health, then you have been living with your head buried in the sand about this issue and peoples responses. Hell, part of what I shared in my ten minutes of bravery was how the unspoken stigmas kept me from getting the diagnosis and treatment I needed for years. I always believed mental illness wasn’t for me.
This conference was all about breaking down the broken thinking we have around mental illness, and I will tell you that through the vulnerability and courage of the people that spoke the battle to break stigma in the church moved forward. People like Tony Roberts who shared a little bit about being a pastor for over 20 years with bi-polar disorder. Then there was Leanne Sype who spoke out about being diagnosed with Anorexia. And I will never forget the bravery of Kelcey Rockhold who shared about her life with schizoaffective disorder. These are just three of the courageous people that spoke up. There were parents of mentally ill children, professionals in the mental health field, several pastors, comedians… all in all there was exactly who God wanted to speak.
This whole thing is so beautiful to me. Seeing the body of Christ come together to support and stand with the marginalized, the mentally ill. It is a small picture of what heaven is supposed to be, a place where the weak and cast aside are brought to the table and given a place of honor. This is Christ in hands and feet, and this is what I saw on Saturday. I hope that this may be the first of many events that can bring awareness, healing, support, and vulnerability to the issues of mental health and the church. May we all get brave, speak out, and together shatter the stigmas that have kept people in bondage.
+Lord hear our prayers.