Sunday, January 21, 2018
Stigma and Acceptance
Over the years I've blogged on a number of occasions about mental illness and mental health. It exists in our society and while we are doing better at addressing both the health challenge and the stigma we are still lurching along toward greater understanding and compassion. There are initiatives such as the Bell Let's Talk program featuring high profile Canadians yet we heard not long ago that there are Bell employees who feel that they are under such pressure to sell products that they've had to go on stress leave with little sympathy or support. Mental illness affects people regardless of intelligence or social status or financial resources.
Recently the CBC radio program The Sunday Edition did a feature on Gerald Le Dain, the late Supreme Court justice. Le Dain was highly respected for his leadership and judgments. He headed up a comprehensive Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the early 1970s. It recommended the decriminalization of marijuana and addressing addiction as a form of illness rather than a crime. While the report was largely ignored then we can see now that it was ahead of its time.
Unfortunately Le Dain struggled under the weight of his workload. He was anxious and didn't sleep and was diagnosed with depression. His wife, Cynthia, was concerned that he was headed for a breakdown so asked Chief Justice Brian Dickson is he could have some time off. But instead of compassion, within two weeks an officer of the court was sent to Le Dain's home to formalize his exit from the Supreme Court. This heartless response only deepened Le Dain's depression and he never worked again. It took thirty years for his family to reveal what had transpired, and it is a sad story.
During my years of ministry I had countless conversations with members of congregations about mental illness in its various forms. In the majority of instances the individuals and families anticipated confidentiality because of the stigma and social repercussions related to mental illness. Some feared the consequences in terms of work. Sadly, some felt that the last people they wanted to know about their circumstances were others in what we might describe as the church family.
We can choose to be compassionate and supportive rather than judgmental or even silent within congregations. We can continue to speak publicly about the broader issues and pray for those whose deepest desire is to return to health. In scripture we are aware of the Christ who heals those who are troubled in spirit as well as body and we can follow his example in a variety of ways.