Extinguish the stigma


By Barb Arland-Fye

“More Than Enough” and “Make It OK” are the themes of two mental health initiatives introduced this month in the ongoing effort to extinguish the stigma associated with mental illness. NAMI launched its “More Than Enough” social media awareness campaign to uplift and empower the mental health community. No matter what they can or cannot do, their value as individuals is more than enough (nami.org). HealthPartners Inc.’s “Make It OK” campaign seeks to change “hearts and minds about the misperceptions of mental illnesses by encouraging open conversations and education on the topic” (makeitok.org). 

As a Church committed to welcoming and to creating a sense of belonging, we have an obligation to work toward extinguishing the stigma associated with mental illness, as did St. John Paul II and now Pope Francis. In a 1993 address to members of the American Psychiatric Association and the World Psychiatric Association, St. John Paul II said, “In your work to overcome the stigma which has often been associated with mental illness …you can be certain of the Church’s appreciation and ready cooperation.”

Pope Francis has spoken about seeking help for anxiety in his early 40s when he was the director of the Jesuit community in Argentina and covertly transporting people to safety during a brutal dictatorship. A psychiatrist helped him to address his fears, orient himself and learn to manage his anxiety and to avoid making decisions in a hurry. “I’m still enormously grateful to her. Her teachings are still of great use to me today,” the Holy Father said (Aleteia, 6-28-21).


NAMI and other mental health advocacy organizations state that one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness every year. The National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) makes it personal: “One in four families will at some time have to cope with mental illness and its effects on a loved one and the family unit. … Many stop coming to church due to the stigma. Stigma is the single greatest barrier to people getting effective treatment. Leaders of a parish, diocese, or other Catholic organizations can fight stigma by learning the signs of mental illness and reaching out to those living with the illness” (ncpd.org/disability-ministry/mental-illness).

“People can and do recover from mental illness,” the NCPD underscores, describing recovery as “the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life, to be a member of a community despite the continuing challenges of living with mental illness.” The organization has released a Pastoral Response to Mental Illness in collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and recently revised its Mental Illness Theological Framework (go to the ncpd.org website).

The NCPD identifies four components of recovery:

  1. Biological — as an illness of the brain, mental illness requires good medical care and often medication.
  2. Psychological — provides help understanding the effects of the disease along with assistance with the stresses of life.
  3. Social — the presence of friends, family, acquaintances and other meaningful relationships is vital.
  4. Spiritual — belief, prayer and a welcoming community of faith help the individual to know the love and grace of God is essential and available. ​

Here are suggestions from mental health advocacy organizations on how we can work toward extinguishing the stigma:

  • Get educated. Visit NAMI Iowa (namiiowa.org), National Catholic Partnership on Disability (https://ncpd.org/disability-ministry/mental-illness), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (samhsa.gov), National Institute of Mental Illness (nimh.nih.gov) and Make It OK (makeitok.org/IOWA/).
  • If you sense that a friend is struggling emotionally or having a hard time, don’t ignore it. Be there for them. Learn the 10 common warning signs and suggestions for starting a conversation (NAMI, https://tinyurl.com/bdcvy8ks).
  • What to say (makeitok.org), “Thanks for opening up to me.” “Is there anything I can do to help?” “How can I help?” “Thanks for sharing.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” “It must be tough.” “I’m here for you when you need me.” “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” “Can I drive you to an appointment?” “How are you feeling today?” “I love you.”
  • If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. En Español, call 1-888-628-9454. Other options: Farm Aid Support Line at 800-FARM-AID (327-6243), Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255).

NAMI invites persons with mental illness to share on social media “why you are more than enough” by tagging (@NAMICommunicate) and using the hashtag #MoreThanEnough. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to come together and remember the inherent value we each hold — no matter our diagnosis, appearance, socioeconomic status, background or ability,” NAMI says. “Showing up, just as you are, for yourself and the people around you is more than enough.”

Our Church values every life; working to extinguish the stigma associated with mental illness affirms life.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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