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Changing attitudes toward mental illness

By Bill Battermann
For the Salisbury Post
In her book “ Black Sun,” Julia Kristeva suggests that we think of depression not so much as a pathology, but rather as a different language. This may be a good way for us to redirect our thinking about mental health and mental illness as we begin Mental Illness Awareness Week. The motto of this week is “Changing Attitudes, Changing Lives.” Looking at depression (and other mental diagnoses) as another language instead of as a pathology could lead to a change in our attitude about it.
Looking at depression as another language leads to the attitude change that really could change lives. It may take some effort to learn a new language, but language does not have the negative associations of pathology or illness. There are actually a lot of benefits in learning a new language. If depression is a different language, then our attention to it can teach us new things about ourselves. Amy Gut, a Swedish psychiatrist, in her book “Productive and Unproductive Depression” tells us that we need to learn from our depression. Rather than merely seeing it as something to be rid of, we should first listen to it and see if it points to changes we need to make in our lives.
So we can actually learn from illnesses like depression. I had a chaplain friend some years ago who would say that the first step in dealing with depression is to bless it. Whenwe do that, we can imagine it as something to learn from instead of viewing it as an unmitigated evil. If depression is a language, we need to remember that it is “a” language, not just language. No one speaks language. WE all speak a language. To understand the particular language of depression, therapy helps. So do groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which operates in this county as NAMI Rowan. Listening to one another, members learn how to cope with the difficulties of this language. They grow with these skills and find they grow into a richer and deeper life by sharing with others.
A high percentage of people who seek help for their difficulties in the area of mental illness attain recovery and can live normal lives. A significant minority of people in our society will suffer from a mental illness at some time in their lives. Others will have family members and friends who suffer from such difficulties. When our society realizes that these conditions can be successfully treated, we can well be on our way to changing lives.
I believe that we are social beings through and through. All our skills and strengths we have acquired from others: teachers, parents, friends and neighbors. We have to a degree learned the language of depression from others. It also is determined by things like our body’s chemistry. So it seems to me the best way to make progress is together. I believe that we are in a first-person plural setting. Helping each other out is the first step to any recovery. Take some time this week to go to one of the events to increase your awareness of mental illness and the potential for recovery. You could start by coming to the healing service and memorial tribute for a former NAMI member, Mark Vanhoy, at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on Sunday evening (Oct. 2) at 7:30.
Remember, “Changing Attitudes, Changes Lives.”
• • •
Bill Battermann is a past board member of NAMI Rowan and recently retired as pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

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