Are You Judging Others In The Midst Of Mental Illness?

March 30, 2017

I am no foreigner to judgments heaped on those that live in the midst of mental illness. For the last 11 years, I have been in the trenches with loved ones that have a mental illness. It grieves my heart how judgments flow so readily from others that have no understanding of what it is like to be in the midst of mental illness.

In the midst of mental illness, judgments cause more suffering, scars, and hinder recovery for everyone involved. Is this the mark you want to leave?

A loving kind mom once told me of her encounter at the ER that broke my heart and infuriated me. I hope it does the same to you.

Her daughter had hurt herself, and they promptly took her to the local ER. Upon arriving, she was taken in and put on a gurney to wait in the hall. Of course, this mom understood that the most severe cases had to be attended to first.

But what she never expected was the coldness and judgmental remarks that followed.

Her daughter whom she loved more than life itself had a mental illness. As soon as the medical staff discovered the nature of her illness and that her wounds were self-inflicted the remarks started, “ Don’t bother with that girl she is just a …………..” “Let her just wait; she doesn’t deserve to be helped.” The smiles from staff turned to stares, the softness in their voices became harsh, and the whispers began throughout the halls.

This mom was quickly reminded…

That judgment in the midst of mental illness are significant and rapidly add to everyone’s suffering.

Wait a minute – does this really happen? Do people with mental illness sometimes get treated differently from other sicknesses? Yes, it does – too often. In my experience with mental illness, I have heard countless stories of judgmental attitudes that loved ones and families have encountered.

Did you know when we judge those with mental illness we add to their burden?

With many of the mental disorders, self-judgment can be a major factor and hindrance to one’s recovery. When we judge those who have a mental illness, we are most likely adding to the profound suffering that is already going on. They probably judge themselves harsher than we ever could.

Some walk around at times feeling unworthy or with a running tape that says, “I can’t do anything right.” Do we want to add to that?

What about when we write those with mental illness off as hopeless or stay away because it feels awkward? Is that not a huge judgment –  not only of the person but of the God we believe in? He doesn’t write us off.

Instead, can’t we learn skills to look beyond the behaviors to the beautiful person that God created? After all, we could be a catalyst in helping instead of increasing the suffering.

Sure, you may have to learn some skills, to meet a person where they are at, but isn’t that what God does for us?

Isn’t that what God would want us to do?

When you judge us – the family

It does not help. The burden we carry is hard enough. We need to concentrate on how to be effective in the midst of mental illness, not defend our every move. We need your support, your love, and your understanding.

Please realize we too judge ourselves and struggle with the fact that we can’t alleviate the suffering of the person we love.

You may see us a nod as if we are taking in in your well-meaning advice, but inside we may be feeling judged. The pain is deep, and we may be screaming on the inside – “Walk in our shoes – you have no idea.” When you suggest “tough love”, it cuts to the core as if we have failed.

Instead be curious and ask us questions. We need you to help us arrive at what might be best, not step in and tell us what you think is best.  

The vicious cycle of judging and family silence:

Please, understand many have judged us, so we are reluctant to open up and let you in.

On the inside, we cry out, “If only they knew or took the time to understand what mental illness is like to live with, surely, they would not judge.”

Thus, the vicious cycle begins – we stay silent for fear of judgment, which in turn increases the insensitivity and lack of understanding. This in turn only increases the judgments.

It is a sequence that needs to be broken. To break this, we need families to be brave and share their stories. We need others to educate themselves and be willing to drop the judgments and be compassionate and curious instead.

Of course, there are also stories of great love, dedication, and empathy. I will forever be grateful for the people that continue to stand by our family and the strangers that offer hope in dark times.

We all can do our part to decrease judgments and make living in the midst of mental illness a little bit better for everyone.

A few suggested places to start would be:

Please share what you can do to make a difference or how you have been judged harshly in the midst of mental illness?

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37 Comments

  1. Reply

    Shannon

    This is such an important topic, Maree! Mental illness is so poorly understood, especially within the church.
    I have numerous family members who struggle with it. Just this last weekend one of my brother-in-law’s brothers took his own life. I’m going to be sharing this post as we reel from the loss.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Shannon,

      I am so sorry for your families loss. Losing someone is hard enough, but with it being to suicide it brings so many more emotions to process. Praying for prayers of comfort and that you feel Gods presence as you all mourn this loss.

      Thank you for sharing. I do believe the more we share; the more people will begin to understand. My hope is then judgments will lower.

      Maree

  2. Reply

    When You Need the Words to Pray Against Your Child's Fear {MomentsofHope} - Lori Schumaker

    […] week, Maree Dee of Embracing the Unexpected, opens our eyes to judgement and mental illness. Her words resonated with me and I know they will […]

  3. Reply

    frugallivingontheranch

    Thank you for this it has really touched my heart. We are going through this with my stepson. It started last year and I still remember the first night in the ER how hard it was, and when we got home thinking how do you deal with this there isn’t many people you can talk to about it because as you said so many are so quick to judge. My daughter had a friend in school who use to cut herself, we talked about it a lot, and she let her friend know that she was always there if she needed her (in fact one night in the middle of the night we had to go and get her and bring her home with us). My daughter works in the ER now and sees a lot of this and she gets so upset when others start judging. I guess unless you have been close to it you don’t understand just how hard it is for the person and for the family. Sorry for the long comment and thank you for bringing this to the attention of others and Thanks for sharing this at the LMM link up! Hope to see you at the next link up.
    Connie

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Connie,

      Don’t be sorry at all for your long comment. I loved reading it.

      I am so sorry you are going through this with your stepson. Lifting all of you up right now in prayer. Yes, those firsts can be difficult. I hope you have some support it is a long road. Please do not hesitate to email me offline if you ever want prayer, support, or to pick my brain. I have been at this for awhile.
      maree.dee@embracingtheunexpected.com

      How cool is that your daughter works in an ER. It just reminds me that God uses everything including what her friend went through. I do have to say when you do run into someone at the hospital that does take the time and give a little tender care it make a huge difference. We have experienced many compassionate people along the way.

      Blessings,

      Maree

  4. Reply

    lauradavis2013

    Unfortunately I deal with this every day. My son has suffered from severe and chronic depression since he was 16 years old. He is now 29. When people ask me how he is doing, “Has he got a job yet?” It hurts. Because they always follow it with, “He is so lazy. You are letting him walk all over you. Why don’t you kick him out of the house?” Why? Because he will immediately try to kill himself that’s why. Mental illness is the worst and those who judge do indeed make it harder.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Laura – I am so sorry your son suffers from depression. I am sending prayers for him and you as I reply back. You are so right judgments from others just adds to the difficulty. I am so sorry that people say such insensitive things to you. They have no idea if they haven’t walked in your shoes. Thank goodness God knows why we do what we do for our kids.

      I hope you have found support from those that do have similar situations. I know for me it is extremely helpful. Please do know that anytime you want to chat or need prayer offline via email I am available. maree.dee@embracingtheunexpected

      Thank you for sharing your personal expereinece in the comments. I think the more we are willing to share it will bring an awareness. Blessings, Maree

  5. Reply

    Lori Schumaker of Seaching for Moments

    Hi Maree,

    As a Mama of a little one with mental illness, this touched a deep place in my heart. Judgement has been a place I’ve needed to learn to let bounce off me. Sometimes I’m successful and other times not. The strange looks, the random comments that sting, and the loneliness felt along the journey make the daily emotional wrecking even worse. Others can’t understand the utter mental self discipline it takes to parent or live with mental illness. The exhaustion is deep and the grief often raw. Thank you for authentically sharing such important truth around this subject. I pray for more awareness in this area! I’m so glad you shared this at #MomentsofHope with us!!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Lori,

      Thank you for sharing a little bit of your story. I believe as we begin to share a bit things will change. You are so right others have no idea the exhaustion and deep grief. Sending prayers for you right now, I do understand. I hope you have found others around you that do understand and support you. Please know I would love to hear more of your story and partner with you in prayer anytime. Feel free to email me directly. maree.dee@embracingtheunexpeted.com I am so glad I found your site and love reading your posts.

      Thank you for hosting the link up.
      Blessings, Maree

  6. Reply

    Brandi Raae

    Thanks so much for linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays again! Hope to see you next week. 🙂

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Thank you for hosting the link. I will be there. Maree

  7. Reply

    Brandi Raae

    Thanks for shedding light on a tender subject and for linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays. Blessings!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Brandi – Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. Mental Health struggles is a topic very close to my heart. Blessings to you! Maree

  8. Reply

    Karrilee Aggett (@KarrileeA)

    What a powerful and helpful post! So many I think hurt and offend unaware… lack of knowledge is often to blame, although lack of compassion is usually what stings the most! I am hopeful that the Church is getting better at loving and supporting, rather than shunning and denying! I see small steps of progress as I have friends and family who battle and have battled with various forms of mental illness. Thanks so much for sharing this story and for the steps to take to learn more!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Karrilee, I agree with you so many people hurt and offend and are not even aware of it. We all have to get better at bringing about awareness.

      Yes, I agree the Church is getting better. I attend a fantastic church where we have a ministry for families that have a loved one with a mental illness.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting,

      Maree

  9. Reply

    Being Woven

    A powerful statement and one we must accept and learn. Oh, that we would see the beauty in each person. I cared for my mother with Dementia and that was a tough 15 years, but such a blessing to me as the one here. I loved her more than anything too and wanted to do right by her. As the caregiver, I, too, endured judgment which hurt. Mama was doing the best she could. I could see beyond her mind. Years ago, I worked in the National Children’s Center in DC where I had a class of severely mentally handicapped 1-4 year olds. When I did a home visit, one mother asked me why I loved her daughter…that no one else but the mother loved Tracy. I told her from the deepest part of me that I saw beyond the shell and saw Tracy from the inside and she is beautiful. The two of us cried and hugged. She said I was the first. Oh, I thank God for His love so that we can love others.
    Thank you for sharing and being so vulnerable, so open.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Your momma was so lucky to have you. I can tell by your words. I especially loved when you said, “I could see beyond her mind.” Not everyone can do that.

      I have tears in my eyes about the little girl you loved. As a Mom with a child with an illness, I can’t quite put into words how that warmed my heart too. When someone besides “mom” can see the beauty in your child, it is just simply marvelous. I see you as an angel on earth.

      Thank you!!!!

  10. Reply

    Liz

    Thank you so much for sharing this at the new Warriors of the Word Linkup…. blessings to those you know who are dealing with these issues. We need to make more people aware that mental illnesses deserve loving responses just as well as any other, especially as Christians. I pinned this to my pinterest board!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Liz,

      Thank you for pinning this. You are so right we need to spread awareness. I think when people understand they do have more of a desire to respond in a way that is helpful. I am so glad you stopped by.

      Maree

  11. Reply

    Sheila Qualls

    What an awful story. I don’t know if what they did is legal. Certainly not ethical. Hard to believe something like that could happen. I’ve had a family members with a mental illness. Unfortunately, it led to suicide. You never know how someone is going to react to something you say. I have learned to have more compassion for others. No one chooses to be mentally ill. We set the example as Christians and should always lead with kindness.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Sheila,

      I am so sorry you lost your family member to suicide. That had to be difficult.
      You are so right it wasn’t ethical, but I hear stories like this all the time in the ministry that I am involved with. It is sad.
      We do need to lead with kindness.

      Maree

  12. Reply

    Mary Geisen

    Thank you for openly sharing how those with mental illness are being treated. I didn’t realize this. You wrote with such grace and shared some specifics for all of us to help understand. I appreciate your words today.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Mary,

      Thank you for your kind words. I know it is unbelievable how we treat those that are struggling and their families. I do believe with more awareness and understanding this can change.

      Maree

  13. Reply

    KellyRBaker

    May I apologize on behalf of those who hurt you and your family? I’m sorry. I pray God will bring healing in all areas.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Kelly,

      You are so sweet.! Thank you for your comment and most important for your prayers. Yes, we hang on to healing in all areas.

      Just so you know, I write my post from a good place, not a bitter place. I have learned to give the benefit of the doubt even to those that judge my loved or me.

      I feel our family, for the most part, has encountered great professional help and I have been one of the lucky ones that have a fantastic support system with God as the lead.

      Blessings,

      Maree

  14. Reply

    Bette

    Education through NAMI and other mental health professionals was the key for me…and of course, the personal experience I’ve had over the years…especially in regards to our daughter who has had similar experiences. The other side of the coin is that mental health professionals tend to heap judgement on us, the parents, which is also very damaging. The judgement truly does stem from lack of education and experience and just makes the situation worse for those inflicted with mental illness and their loved ones.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Bette,

      I agree education has been key in helping our family to cope. Two of my favorite classes have been Family to Family (NAMI) and Family Connections (NEA.BPD).

      I am so sorry your experience with professional has been to judge you as parents. You are not alone I hear this countless times from families. Hopefully with education and working together things will improve so that we can help families.

      I believe with families working together with their loved alongside professional help the outcomes will be better.

      Thank you for sharing.

      Blessings,

      Maree

  15. Reply

    Leslie

    Maree, Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share this. The ER story just breaks my heart. You give much needed insights here. Thank you.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Leslie, It breaks my heart too. The sad thing is in my ministry I hear many of those stories. It happens over and over again. Maree

  16. Reply

    Debbie Kitterman

    Oh Maree – this hurts my heart that people would pass judgement not only on t he person struggling with mental illness, but also on the family. I am glad God has given you a voice to speak out for those who can not and to bring awareness to others…. and as for the judging thing – no one should be doing that . Thanks for linking up today at #TuneInThursday.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Debbie,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. It is so sad how people pass judgment on those struggling with mental illness and their families. I have heard countless stories from families.

      Honestly, I probably judged too before our family was hit with it. I find when we do not take the time to understand is when we usually end up passing judgment. I try to be more curious now instead of judgmental.

      Blessings,

      Maree

  17. Reply

    Erin @ burdenfreecaregiving.com

    I agree with both Brenda and Michele. I worked in a large hospital (it was the largest employer in our state) and saw so many sad stories. And, I have witnessed even more sadness closer to home. Our world is filled with people who just want to be seen, heard, and valued. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount reminds us that He came to touch people, love people, and restore people. He said it best when He said, “Judge not lest ye be judged”.

    For one of my more recent posts, I asked people, “what do wish you had more of in life”. You would be surprised how many MEN teared up and responded “love” or “friendship”. Watching grown, muscular men (who seem to be tough and have it altogether) tear up is quite the wake up call. Our society is more connected than ever with social media and yet suicides are skyrocketing.

    Maree, this whole series you are doing is timely and needed in our world. The media claims tolerance, yet it makes fun of people who do not look or act a certain way. Thank you for bringing attention to a subject dear to the heats of so many of us. You are Jesus with skin on. Bless you!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Erin,

      Thank you for your insightful comment. I am so glad you shared about your recent post. I find that so interesting about men responding “love” and “friendship.”

      I bet with working in a large hospital you saw all kinds of sad stories. I too agree with Brenda and Michele.

      Thank you, so much for the feedback and your encouraging comment. You made my day with your closing sentence.

      Blessings,

      Maree

  18. Reply

    Brenda

    ((Maree)) It is so sad how society treats those who are different. My son struggles with this as well, and it breaks my heart. I’m sorry you’re struggling. Will be praying with you, sister. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably. ((xoxo))

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Brenda,

      Thank you for your comment and your prayers. I too will be praying for you and your son.

      Honestly, I can say because of the struggle I am a better person. Of course, I still wouldn’t wish this illness on my family members. Through numerous classes, education, and support I have learned how to cope and been able to turn it around into helping others. Still praying for a miracle.

      Blessings,

      Maree

  19. Reply

    Michele Morin

    As someone who grew up in a home impacted by mental illness, my heart goes out to parents who are struggling with it in their kids. We have so little understanding, really, of what it’s like to be the patient or the support system, but may God give us His grace and mercy to respond out of love and expansiveness rather than smallness of heart.
    Thanks, Maree, for this much needed post.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Michele,

      Thank you for your beautiful comment. I would love to hear your story sometime about living in a hope impacted by mental illness. I know every single person is impacted.

      I know from my experience it has taught me to recognized I know so little about what others are going through. I tend to judge a lot less and have a ton more patience and compassion for others.

      Blessings,

      Maree

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