DBSA(Depression Bipolar Support Alliance)Jackson Pushes Back Against Stigma
I identify myself as “spiritual but not religious”. And one of my core beliefs is that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. We enrich this experience by remembering/acknowledging/honoring our oneness with the Source and with each other. To do this, we must embrace our neighbor as an individual, regardless of their state of their physical or mental health, the size of their wallet, the “correctness” of their religious views. For the past ten years, my work as Founder and President of DBSA Jackson has focused on the “consumers” (individuals utilizing mental health services for depression and bipolar disorder), as well as their family and friends. Together, we have created a supportive “understanding family” comprised of a plurality of belief systems.
As “progressive” as we like to think we’ve become, there is still an enormous stigma attached to mental illness. We all have our problems and worries, and we all have coping mechanisms—some healthy, and some, not so much—that we use to deal with them. However, what about those among us that need help managing their mental health challenges? Faced with the very real prospect of rejection, they are silenced and cut off from the world. Unfortunately, many religious institutions reflect this societal view, and this has only further isolated those dealing with mood disorders.
Mother Teresa did not shy away from those facing challenges. On the contrary, she gravitated not to the pillars of society, but to those considered less fortunate and even, by some, undesirable, most notably the poor and infirm. It is with a desire to serve that I have based my organization’s community outreach: first, to in-patients in a behavioral health facility and, secondly, to a population of consumers in the larger community. My inspirational support meetings provide spiritual encouragement to in-patients and other consumers suffering from mood disorders, regardless of the person’s faith (or lack thereof). The aim is to create a supportive, trustworthy, respectful, non-judgmental, and nurturing atmosphere where these individuals can safely explore and strengthen their desire for wellness and contributing to society.
I begin these meetings with a moment of silence in which we remember “those members of our family that we have yet to meet.” A central message of our work is that everyone needs time to be alone and go within: what I refer to as visiting the “inner sanctuary”. In my book, The Two Agreements, I discuss the importance of entering the “stillness” and the “Silence” to find one’s own connection with the Source, on their own terms, rather than those imposed upon them by any person, organization, or religious dictates.
I am also sensitive to the fact that mental illness does not only affect the consumer, but their loved ones as well. That’s why I hold a second meeting each week that’s open to friends and family in need of support. Many focus all of their energy and attention trying to help the diagnosed person. Others are frightened away, and remain distant from the person experiencing the illness. Still others report feeling hurt, helpless, overwhelmed, confused, sad, guilty and ashamed because of their loved one’s illness. I believe that no matter the reaction, these family members and friends need support and comfort as they walk the often-challenging road to wellness alongside their loved one. To this end, my work includes special events that build a family atmosphere and promotes healthy relationships between people with illnesses, family and friends from different walks of life.
I believe that bringing consumers out of isolation helps push back against stigma. Both of the groups that meet weekly, our understanding family, are part of a larger mosaic. Within that mosaic, our family demonstrates the necessity of unity not only to these individuals and to their loved ones but also, on a deeper level, the human family, and our connection with one another. Spiritually speaking, the esoteric teachings of major religions speak of an underlying unity in all of creation, an eternal oneness.
In these most trying of times, our inspirational support group and network creates a safe place, in space and time, for these vulnerable individuals and their loved ones. The result is that they maintain their treatment plan and likely avoid hospitalization. There are a number of fully-employed consumers who regularly attend our meetings and events. These individuals claim they gain the strength to work and contribute to the community because of the support and encouragement they receive. In helping every consumer in our organization to “be well and live well”, we are pushing back against stigma in a most profound way.
S.L. Brannon on DBSA Life Unlimited web site -- http://bit.ly/1kEBzlZ
The Two Agreements fb page -- http://bit.ly/the2agree