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Co-Presidents' Monthly Column

May 2019          

A LETTER FROM THE CO-PRESIDENT

 

As the days are now noticeably longer, I can feel my spirits lifting.  Wandering through my yard, I relish the daffodils and crocuses already blooming and the many other green shoots bursting out of the thawed soil.  At long last.  And yet for some among us, people in my life and I perhaps in yours, Spring is a difficult season.

For reasons not fully understood, Spring is a challenging time for people with mental illness.  Rivaling the holiday season, these months can bring deeper depressions, and wider mood swings.  It’s a time when those who love someone with a mental illness need to double down on that love.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, perhaps selected because of this seasonal reality.  There is a doctor with whom I work, who is a trainer in mental health first aid and suicide prevention, who remembers a time earlier in his career when people were reluctant to speak the word cancer aloud.  Instead, it was the

“C word.”  He compares that to our present day reluctance to openly discuss mental illness and envisions a day when the stigma is gone.

Current science considers mental illness to be similar to other chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.  It’s just that mental illness is a disease of the brain.  But while we express understanding and support for those with most chronic diseases, there is still a tendency to look at mental illness as a kind of failing.  And many with mental illness feel a sense of shame, are reluctant to talk about it, and allow the illness to define them.  “I am depressed” vs. “I have depression.” 

Unitarian Universalists can play a pivotal role in changing the conversation about mental illness.  Not only because we believe deeply in our first three principles which affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, compassion in human relations, and acceptance of one another, but because it’s in our DNA to think differently.  We can contribute by not using stigmatizing language and by acknowledging the person who has mental illness with loving kindness.

It will likely take some time to get to the place that my physician colleague imagines.  But I share his optimism that we will get there someday.

Peace and good health to all,

Laurel