During this Mental Illness Awareness Month, we will focus on the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The term mental illness historically to refers to any abnormality that deviates a person’s behavior from social norms. Over the last few centuries, mental illness has slowly moved to a more scientific, medical framework (conditions were initially associated with spiritual demonology). This has eliminated much of the cruelty imposed on people with mental illnesses, but newer forms of branding and misunderstandings around such human challenges persist.
Anyone who has ever experienced symptoms commonly associated with the concept of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety or more complex disorders, knows all too well the added burden of being labeled “bipolar,” “borderline” or “schizophrenic,” as do their families. These labels and stereotypes carry lead-weighted misconceptions in the public eye that often follow people for entire lifetimes, affecting possibilities for meaningful employment, education, relationships and social engagement. The shortage of adequate funding for treating those who have little or no income sadly means that individuals with mental illness may end up homeless or in the penal system, which further demonizes their existence.
Many of us who work in the mental health field have found it imperative to work toward “depathologizing” the concept of mental illness because it is so laden in the model of “sickness” or “disease” that it is isolating and oppressive. The preferred and more healing approach is to look at the wide range of emotions, beliefs and behaviors encompassed by such labeling as human responses to life stressors by people who are coping as best they are able. We want to give respect and dignity to who they are completely, and appreciate their humanity in such a way that they can also learn to honor themselves in this world as whole beings—perhaps only needing support along the way.
Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.