In The Asylum, Unknown artist.
Matthew Malin, owner and creator of the blog Confessions, has written a wonderful guest post describing the history of mental illness stigma, going all the way back to Roman times. Not only is the subject matter fascinating, but the unique historical perspective shows how the stigma is rooted in two things that seem almost diametrically opposed: mental illness as a medical problem centered in the body; and ancient superstitions, such as demonic possession. Even today, there are those who regard mental illness as either a primarily medical problem (leading to doctors over-relying on drug therapy) or a spiritual problem. While there may be both medical and spiritual elements involved in mental illness, both views have led to stigmatization.
If you have a chance, please visit the Confessions blog. Matthew’s articles are all about living with depression and anxiety, all written from an intimate, Christian perspective:
In the Spring of 2015 an incredible passion for those suffering from Mental Illness was born within the heart of Matty Malin. Through his own struggles with Depression and anxiety, a fire was ignited within his heart. That desire was to create a place of honesty, transparency, and love. We, the broken, have grown far too weary of the masquerade playing out before our eyes in society. We’re tired of hiding behind “I’m fine”. Here you will find unabashed clarity into the soul of man. You will also discover the love of God despite the ugly, sometimes violent, heart of man.
We fully believe that man is sinful and in need of a Savior. Jesus, the perfect son of God, stepped into our world, lived a sinless life, and was murdered voluntarily on the cross for our sins. He took on the wrath of God for us so that we might have access to a relationship with God that will one day result in spending eternity with him. We obtain salvation through faith in His work and by the grace of His loving hand.
We firmly believe that no man can go too far for the love and hope of Christ. Mental Illness can provide some of the darkest days of life. It is here that we need hope and it is here that we can find it in Christ.
WHY DOES MENTAL ILLNESS STIGMA EXIST?
By Matthew Malin
As someone who has dealt with the debilitating effects of Depression and anxiety for a period of 4, almost 5 years, I believe that I’ve stumbled across something much more paralyzing: Mental Health Stigma. The more aware I become of my own struggles and the more honest I am with myself and others, the more I find a growing discomfort with the topic of Mental Health. Why is this? What is it about Mental Health that sends general fear and inquietude through someone who is tasked with aiding the mentally ill?
A timeline of mental illness stigma.
Cutting the Stone by Heironymous Bosch, ca. 1494
I believe that history is ultimately to blame in this arena as well as a shallow thought process towards the issue. The Greek Era (500-100 BC) brought forth our first record of Mental Health treatment. Hippocrates was of the mind that a build up of bodily fluids was to blame. In his words, he said, “It is some kind of black bile that is making you depressed.” Their treatments revolved around the physical removal of whatever fluid was ailing the individual.
The Roman people (100BC-600 AD) did nothing to treat the issue at its core either. Instead, they were of the mind that depression/mental health issues were caused by organic malfunctions. Diet and exercise were prescribed to deal with the issue. Yet another example of a culture misunderstanding the true nature of Mental Health.
During the Middle Ages (600-1100 AD), a holy war was being waged on Satan and any form of mental issue was prescribed to be due to demonic activity. The medication for such issues became obvious: Exorcism or any other kind of holy activity. It is believed that the stigma of such illnesses became obviously prevalent and prejudiced during this time.
This recap ultimately brings us to our day and age. If you take a good hard look at the process of treating/dealing with Mental Illness today, you will see a common thread amongst diagnosis and treatment. The 1950’s brought about the thought that medical treatment was the only way to deal with the issue. This solution can be easily traced back to the Greek Era and their thought processes. Others will still claim that diet and exercise will best help those suffering from mental illnesses. There are those as well who righteously claim that mental illness is of the devil and must be rid of by God.
The meaning of mental illness.
All of these prescriptions are lazy, surface level suggestions that completely forsake the underlying notion of what it means to be mentally ill.
It is within the opinion of the author that, when it is appropriate, medicinal, organic, and religious means be used to treat mental illnesses. It is not, however, appropriate to cast off those with mental illnesses by simply telling one to deal with their issues by such means.
What is meant is this: Non-suffering individuals should not settle for surface level treatments when the real issue must be dealt with by more personal means. There is more to those who are mentally ill than meets the eye.
Medicine, religion, and organic based treatments are incredibly valuable but there is one treatment that is oft ignored: the support of a caring soul.
Our culture is neck deep in instant gratification. Social media, advancements in technology, and a general lack of education have only worsened the stigma that already existed towards those with mental illness. It is within the opinion of the author that our society has lost all care and respect for the people around them. Why? We’re far too caught up in ourselves.
What needs to be done.
It is a sad, unfortunate truth that this stigma will truly never go away. Some people will never care but all hope has not been lost. While arrogance can hardly be cured, ignorance can be educated. This kind of teaching cannot take place within a classroom. This is the kind of schooling that happens through our parenting, our social lives, and our social media ones. What I’m advocating for is change, but not from the outside world.
Change has to come from within if we ever want to make a difference. This requires those with any kind of mental illness to step up and speak out. It requires a willingness to open up about the issues, the difficulties, and the failures that come along with mental health. This change begins with us.
I recognize what I’m asking. I’ve not been very shy about my struggles but I recognize that it may come a little harder for others. Whether social stigma has silenced your voice or your own perceived stigma has, it can be an incredibly difficult thing to open up about. Let me reassure you of this: Your mental illness does not define who you are. Yes, it limits you. Yes, it makes life a little more difficult. I guarantee you though that it does not take away your worth as a human being.
You have been fearfully and wonderfully made by the God of the Universe and He loves you. You were made in His image! No person can ever take that away from you. No amount of vicious vocabulary or audacious action can strip you of your worth as a human being. Don’t allow yourself to tell you that you have no worth and therefore cannot speak out. Don’t allow other people to tell you that either. You have inherent worth, you are loved, and you are capable of standing against this.
Decide today that you will no longer stay quiet in this battle. You have a voice, let it be heard.
Be the change you wish to see in this world.
God bless you,
Author and Founder of Confessions: