Tuesday October 5th: Martha And Mary
October 5, 2021
Virtual launch of theology conference
October 5, 2021

Working to end the unequal world of mental illness

Today the local Church joins with the rest of the world in celebrating World Mental Health Day. The theme of this year’s celebration is Mental Health in an Unequal World.

Undoubtedly, there is social stigma attached to mental health problems, and blame for being ill or behaving badly has often accompanied that stigma. This is because society in general has stereotyped views about mental illness and how it affects people.

Many still believe that all persons with mental health problems are mad, violent, and dangerous, when in fact they are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves than harming other people.

Consequently, many people who live with mental health problems try to keep their feelings hidden because they are afraid of other people’s reactions.

The theme chosen for 2021 highlights that access to mental health services remains unequal, with between 75 per cent to 95 per cent of people with mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries unable to access mental health services at all, while access in high income countries is not much better.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the effects of inequality on health outcomes and no nation, however rich, has been fully prepared for this. The pandemic has and will continue to affect people of all ages, in many ways: through infection and illness, sometimes resulting in death bringing bereavement to surviving family members; through the economic impact, with job losses and continued job insecurity; and with the physical distancing that can lead to social isolation. All of this can impact an individual’s mental health.

Thankfully, there is a developing ethos of good mental health, a growing belief that everyone, notwithstanding their challenges, has promise, can recover and rebuild from life’s misfortunes, and should be able to achieve that to which we all aspire—the warmth of relationships, the safety of home, the experience of community, and the dignity of being able to contribute meaningfully to society.

Pope Francis’ message on the way we treat persons with mental illness is clear: we need to be more welcoming, not defer to the dogma of powerful, hierarchical authorities, serve those in need, and practise what we preach.

Reducing the inequality experienced by persons with mental illness means offering them the possibility of recovery through our interventions. Recovery means helping them sustain hope, inclusion, finding strengths, building resilience and valuing, above all, their needs and wishes first.

Recovery does not deny the existence of their illness, but is more about helping them to make a life despite limitations.

Perhaps the rich young man in today’s gospel reading is us, content to follow all that has been prescribed for our legitimate success, but unwilling to go the extra mile, unwilling to give up those stereotypes about the mentally ill we have nurtured, unwilling to truly share our wealth with those whom we have judged for behaviour brought about by their mental illness.

We may prefer instead to clothe ourselves in our arrogance, and shelter in the illusory safety of our material possessions.

Today, Jesus challenges us to bring to an end the unequal world in which our mentally ill brothers and sisters live. We need to act, and act urgently.

Photo by Marcel Strauß on Unsplash