In our desire to understand ourselves, we often end up complicating things. For example, imprinting something onto our identity has serious consequences. It’s like a getting a tattoo that we later regret. Being labelled as “anxious” can be a source of hurt and discrimination. Here’s how to handle mental illness stigma.
What is a stigma?
The word stigma originally meant to tattoo or brand with a hot iron. It means leaving an indelible mark. One of the worst things our society does is label people for life with hurtful phrases like:
- “She’s always anxious.”
- “He’s just like that.”
- “She’s always been complicated.”
- “He’s pigheaded.”
These types of condemnations occur all the time, and we even do it to ourselves. We tell ourselves, “I’m programmed like this, and I can’t change.” But you don’t have to believe this – instead you can begin to hope.
Identifying is not stigmatizing
There is nothing wrong with identifying emotional/psychological problems. If someone is suffering from depression, the worst thing we can do is deny it. But the second worst thing we can do is label a person as “depressed”. Depression is an emotional state, not a permanent part of anyone’s identity.
Sometimes apparently harmless stigmas contain hidden dangers, like Zodiac signs. Being born during a certain month does not control your behavior. Don’t doom yourself – or excuse your actions – just because you are a certain “sign”. There are plenty of Virgos that aren’t fussy, and stubbornness is found in many not born under Taurus. In fact, astrology is dangerous since it guides people spiritually in an ungodly way.
Enneagrams, although well intentioned, are similar traps which pigeonhole people into thinking that they are programmed to react a certain way. All of this only limits your freedom.
Mental health diagnosis trap
The same damage can occur in the field of mental health. Doctors diagnose people every day and unfortunately some take this as a stigma – a brand that they can never be free from. Remember, a diagnosis is not an identity.
Freedom in God’s Word
Holy Scripture shines a light saying we are all capable of transforming ourselves with God’s help. Don’t limit your capabilities or make a weakness a prison. Reject being stereotyped by any means.
In Romans 12, Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
And in 2 Corinthians it says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
You may feel that it is impossible for your character to change, and Satan wants you to believe this so you continue to suffer. But trust that God can change things for you. The impossible is his specialty. So pray for change every day.
Ask God to show you where you are weak, and he will heal you.
Other ways to avoid the mental illness stigma:
- Seek help: Ask your church and health care provider for help. Don’t deny your need. Isolating yourself only makes things worse. Join a prayer group and begin to have them pray for you and you for them.
- Don’t feel shame: Anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems are the world’s leading cause of disease burden. You are not alone, and you don’t have to feel ashamed. Focus on getting better instead.
- Your illness is not you: You are not anxious, but you can suffer from anxiety. People don’t say, “I am the flu.” It might take time to get free, but complete liberation is possible.
- Learn: When you know more about your situation you increase your chances of getting better. Learn about your challenges.
The only identity that matters
Jesus Christ offers hope, not condemnation. The only identity that no one can ever take away from you is this: you are a child of God. In the Gospel of John it says:
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
What wonderful news! As you receive Jesus, you find yourself firmly in a place not limited by any human means. Here, no amount of misunderstanding by others can harm you beyond how much Jesus strengthens you.
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:5)
Image source (modified).