In June, I had the opportunity to attend Mental Health America’s Annual Conference. Mental Health America is a nonprofit devoted to mental health support, recovery and advocacy. Among the many topics discussed was the lingering stigma associated with mental illness. Although we have certainly progressed in our understanding and treatment of mental illness, there still exists a collective degree of fear surrounding individuals with mental health problems.
In the worst light, people with mental illness are presumed to be unpredictable, difficult to be around and doomed to never recover from their afflictions. Indeed, the idea that our own brains could derail or hijack our lives is frightening. Despite our fears about mental illness, however, the overwhelming majority of those diagnosed with a disorder can — with proper treatment, social support and perhaps medication — manage their symptoms and lead productive, healthy and often remarkable lives.
To confront the enduring shame associated with mental illness, MHA’s conference speakers and attendees insisted that rather than hide, those in recovery or suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other disorders, need to voice their struggles and triumphs. They need to let others know that mental illness is not incurable and, in some ways, is a very common human experience. After hearing a multitude of inspirational testimonies and life stories, I left the conference contemplating those messages of hope and wondering how we, at the FaithCentre, could serve those within the mental health community.
When I returned to the office, I sifted through our correspondence and came across an Easter card from one of our volunteers. It states, “Thank you so much for welcoming (me) to be a part of your wonderful organization! The FaithCentre provides such a warm and inviting environment. Since starting there in November, I have come to grow so much personally. I began to become more outgoing instead of isolating. I have begun to trust again — not only in others but also in myself. I appreciate all you have done for me and feel blessed to have you all in my life.”
After reading those words, it occurred to me that the FaithCentre, like many nonprofits, provides a very real, if quiet, service to those struggling with loneliness or emotional unrest. Spending time at any agency where one’s work, commitment and talents are valued and where praise and acknowledgement are liberally offered is inherently therapeutic. Mental illness and, often, simply the stress of daily life can be isolating. And isolation and solitude can be extremely detrimental to anyone’s well-being. The FaithCentre and many of our area’s wonderful nonprofits offer an opportunity, through volunteerism, for anyone seeking the affirmation and appreciation of others to find a place of belonging, community, and, ultimately, healing.
Nicole Summers is the executive director of FaithCentre. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.