An Antidote to the Stigma of Mental Illness.

An Antidote to the Stigma of Mental Illness.

Is there something wrong with me?

When we encounter depression or anxiety we often think “is there something wrong with me?” We can wonder “why is it me struggling like this?”

Often we can be quick to point out how common depression and anxiety is in order to suggest that there is nothing wrong. However, I don’t think this is helpful and can actually fuel the stigma of mental illness. Let me explain…

To say that everything is right would contradict the very meaning of mental illness. Illness implies that something is not operating in the way it could, in the way God originally created it to be. To say everything is right, adds to the confusion because of the symptoms we encounter are far from being all right. There is at least something not quite right, something ‘out of alignment’, something broken.

It is important that we start from this position, as without it we will not see the need to heal, to manage our emotions better, to work through difficulties or to process the pain. We will not have hope but only despair.

Could it be when we ask: “is there something wrong with me?” We are actually saying: “there is something wrong but I don’t know what it is.”


We’re not so different

We need to remember there is something not quite right with everyone. We are all broken.

Psalm 53:3 says:
“They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good, not even one.”

We are all broken, including our minds. No one has ‘perfect’ mental health but not everyone has a mental illness. We are all prone to think untrue, unhelpful and unkind thoughts that are not reflective of who God is, what he’s said and what he desires for us. Recognising our brokenness deflates stigma because it gives no one a moral high ground, no reason for arrogance or to shame another because we are all the same — broken.


What it means to be human

Recognising our brokenness does not cause discrimination, the stigma about mental illness emerges from misunderstanding what it means to be human. So what differentiates the human being to the ant? What makes us human?

“The stigma about mental illness emerges from misunderstanding what it means to be human.”

Q: Is a person human because of our physical make up? Simply because we have two arms, two legs, two eyes and 10 fingers and toes? Surely an amputee is no less human? We are not just a sum of our parts.

Q: Is a person human because they can think ideas or reason? Surely someone with an intellectual disability is no less human.

Q: Is a person human because they are able to have relationships or communicate to others? Surely a patient in a coma or a person sleeping is no less human.

We discover is that what it means to be human is not found in our ability to function.

“What it means to be human is not found in our ability to function.”

Mental illness makes it difficult to interact with ‘normal life’ and the various roles and functions. It can become debilitating; however, mental illness does not make you less human and it certainly does not make you less valuable. People are not their illness. You are not your struggles. You are not defined by the sum of your mistakes or successes. You are not your sins or your good works.


Inherent value

We have established what we are not, so what are we?

Genesis 1:26-27 says “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Every human being is created in God’s image. An image is a reflection of the original; because God is intrinsically valuable, people are intrinsically valuable and because every person is made in God’s image, every person is valuable.

I could (probably not but just imagine) do an amazing painting of the Mona Lisa, it could look better than the original but it would be worth absolutely nothing. The paintings of Leonardo da Vinci are worth so much because of who the maker is. The Mona Lisa is valuable because it was made by da Vinci.

We have been made by God and so we are valuable. There is no function we can do to add or take away from this value.

We are valuable because we have been made by God. There is no function we can do to add or take away from this value.


How stigma plays out…

The stigma toward people who experience mental health issues often occurs because we attribute a persons value to their ability to function.

The image might be shattered and the image obscured but we are all valuable. This is the antidote to the stigma of mental illness: our brokenness does not define our worth. We are valuable because of who our Maker is.

When we avoid or despise a person because they struggle with mental illness, we isolate and devalue them while also cheapening the image of God. We are consciously or unconsciously attributing a person’s  value to their function.

The same issue arises when we praise or admire a person for how well they manage their mental illness, we are still doing the same thing: attributing a person value to their ability to function. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate progress but it means that we celebrate God at work in his image bearer instead of what function his image bearer can perform.

Consider a person’s value and worth not by their function but by their Maker, despite its obscured reflection and regardless of how the brokenness manifests. We have been made by God in his image.


“Consider a person’s value and worth not by their function but by their Maker”