Our culture doesn’t readily endorse seeking care for mental health concerns. Conventional wisdom portrays to our patients that they must work harder to gain self-control and manage their struggles. We would never say that to someone with heart disease or cancer.
People of all ages and backgrounds with mental health needs experience significant stigma. As a nurse practitioner, my patients often are ashamed to mention their depression or anxiety. Most say that they can’t discuss it with family and friends because the nature of the symptoms implies that they’re inadequate or haven’t tried to solve their own problems. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, stigma prevents people from seeking timely help.
Even we nurses can be reluctant or unwilling to admit we need support with our mental health. As a result, like many of our patients and people we know in the community, we suffer and struggle.
Although I’ve dealt with anxiety my entire adult life, it took many years of trying to address the problem on my own before I accepted help. I lost many years of mental calmness because of this hesitance.
In my practice, I see clearly how delayed care can worsen outcomes and quality of life. One young woman came for help with ADD and anxiety. She’s now in her 20s and struggling to hold a job. She mentioned that though she had recently finished graduate school, she was unable to focus at work or at home. Generational stigma compounded cultural stigma, resulting in feelings of inadequacy. It took courage to seek help; when she did, her trajectory radically changed. Between therapy and medication support, she’s redefining herself and understanding that she’s not alone.
We must advocate for change, both with our patients and among ourselves. Here are some suggestions:
- Begin a discussion with your family, friends, or social network about a mental health topic, even if it doesn’t pertain to you specifically.
- Spread awareness. Forward a mental health-related article to a friend or family member or post links to your social media. Keep the conversations going.
- Encourage reading articles on mental health that are curious or interesting to promote compassion and understanding in your and others’ homes and community.
As Christian nurses, we can support the mental health of our patients and our fellow nurses by embracing an attitude of love and compassion. Remember that God can renew minds (Romans 12:2). The apostle Paul writes that this renewal of our minds will lead to peace that passes our understanding, which only God can provide (Philippians 4:7).
As we point our patients, their families, and ourselves toward this hope, the blight of stigma can be replaced with the compassion of Christ, reflected in the care of one person at a time!
Kristene Diggins, DNP, MBA, RN, CDE, FAANP, works as an NP in community health.
This post is excerpted from the author’s article, Rebuffing the Stigma of Mental Health, in the current issue of the Journal of Christian Nursing. Access to all articles, including Online Exclusives, is one of many benefits of membership in Nurses Christian Fellowship. Join NCF!
JCN is looking for column and articles on the topic of mental health and nursing. Get more info on how to submit an article by clicking ‘For Authors’ at journalofchristiannursing.com.