Stigma. What is stigma?
It’s like the word is tossed around a lot. We can’t talk about our mental health struggles because of STIGMA. But was is it?
My definition: That silent social rule that keeps everyone hush hush about mental health struggles because we honestly don’t know enough about it and what we do know is… well… negative… and we are afraid of being judged.
*Now I go onto Oxford Dictionaries because I don’t know the official dictionary definition aha
Oxford English Dictionary definition:
1. A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
Ex: ‘the stigma of having gone to prison will always be with me’
Okay… similar enough.
It’s pretty clear that either way, stigma is negative. But what is considered to be a mark of disgrace? I think honestly, that changes as society changes. There once was a time (before modern medicine) where having a fever was a mark of disgrace because well, it killed people… (not to be morbid or depressing…)
For those of us who are Christian, I think in the church, there are also many things that are considered to be a mark of disgrace. Yes, there are actually many things that ARE disgraceful… like sin. It’s disgraceful, and simply not pleasing to God when we lie, when we steal… etc.
But again, do we talk about these things? When we meet family, friends, church communities? Yeah we do. Sometimes. I mean we know…
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.. ” Romans 8:1
But when we share in small group, or just even on Sunday at church, do we honestly share? Doesn’t it sometimes sound more like…
Person 1: How was your week?
Person 2: It was good! This and this happened… GOD IS GOOD! How
Or if you were a bit more honest…
Person 2: It was hard… but it’ll be okay… I just need to sleep
Because of the stigma, and the shame and disgrace associated with our struggles, we often don’t share…
I mean how many of us really HONESTLY share the deeper struggles that we wish people could actually pray for.
→The “I think I have depression… I’m struggling with an eating disorder… My grandma has a life threatening cancer…I don’t have a job… I’m struggling financially…”
I get it. It’s hard. Especially for those of us who are Asian and saving face and being okay, or just being strong, is important, because what we do and struggle with reflects our work ethic, our family (the way our parents raised us), our character, discipline, self-control…
But what I’ve come to realize is that WE ALL STRUGGLE (say what??… haha). But seriously… we are all human. We live in a broken and fallen world. We are all imperfect. Sometimes, things happen in life and it’s not our fault… we get sick, we accidentally hurt someone, our workplace goes bankrupt. Sometimes, it IS our fault… we were stressed and lashed out in anger, we got anxious and acted out of fear.
We all do it, in our own ways. We may not all struggle with mental illness or our jobs or our grades… but we struggle. We are human.
Why let stigma keep us from sharing honestly?
I believe God gives us community for a reason. Yes, God is ALWAYS there for us (so by all means, keep praying, confessing, and going to God when you need to), but I think He also knows that we need human connection. We are not meant to struggle alone.
For when we are alone, that’s when we are more vulnerable to the enemy’s temptations… even Jesus experienced that (Matthew 4:1-11)
And well-God cares about us. He knows we struggle. He wants to help us in ways that will really help us.
I know this is often used in reference to marriage… but..
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18
And there’s also:
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load. Galatians 6:1-5
Stigma… it’s hard. I’m saying that like a broken record over and over again because ITS TRUE. As a pastor’s kid, a fairly decent student… and whatever other titles I felt like I had to live up to, how could I share that I think I have an eating disorder? Or that I struggle with depression/anxiety/PTSD…I couldn’t for the longest time. But I was really struggling… and it began to eat me alive. And well… literally too… eat me alive… until I almost died (eating disorders are serious… I will speak more on this later).
Again, we are not meant to struggle alone. Yes, it is so hard to share.
But it’s also hard to struggle alone.
And speaking from experience, the “brief” (because this depends haha *sigh) discomfort of sharing is worth it. It’s worth the relief that comes from just connecting with someone, with being seen for who you are, and the healing that comes when you allow God to work in your life.
If you feel that this is what you need… take a deep breath, it will be okay.
Trust God. I had to tell myself that so many times over and over again. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart Kara. Don’t lean on your own understanding… God loves you, He sees what’s ahead, He is taking care of you… He will make your path straight.” (Prov 3:5-6… my favorite verse)
Take another deep breath. Then go for it. Share. Share with whoever God leads you to share with. Family. A trusted friend. A therapist (in the psychology world, they literally say you can’t heal from trauma until you talk about it… they don’t know why but there’s something about voicing it that’s healing).
If you don’t have anyone, you are more than welcome to email me. But I encourage you to share.
I’m still learning how to do this myself and it’s definitely not easy. But as someone just a few steps ahead… I don’t regret it.
It will be okay.