Shaming the "Modern day leper"
Submitted by Kimberly Anderson
March 18, 1999
As a psychology teacher I am always dismayed at the number of students each semester who show so little empathy towards, and understanding of the mentally ill - many of whom are considered to be "modern day lepers".
First off, we are ALL mentally ill to one degree or another. Unfortunately ( or fortunately) our deficits or handicaps aren't as visual and public as a person with a twisted body, or visual impairment. I can't figure out why it is acceptable for a person with a broken pancreas to be on Insulin for the rest of their lives, while it is quite unacceptable (in the minds of many) for an individual with a broken brain to be Lithium, or heaven forbid Prozac for any length of time. Why this hypocritical intolerance?
It is my heartfelt belief that the good Lord gave us our intelligence with the expectation that we would use it in finding ways to help those in need. Yes, many psycho tropic medication are over prescribed and over used, but I am of the opinion that it is a great sin to NOT use our knowledge and abilities to better the lives of others as it is to abuse the same ability.
I can't seem to visualize the Savior avoiding or making fun of a person in need of Ritalin or Thorazine - anymore than he might shun or mock a person in a wheel chair.
From too many of my students, I hear comments like "They (those with mental problems) must not be living the gospel" or "If they'd just pull themselves up by the boot straps, get a grip, and read the scriptures, they'd be fine" or my all time favorite: "They must be possessed, aren't those kind of illness' of the devil?" Give me a major break.
A study conducted by the University of Utah Research Center several years ago showed that 32% of Utahn's [i.e. Mormon's] believe mental illness is caused by sinning and 61% believe it is caused by bad parenting. "Those with a specific church affiliation had a more harsh and moralistic attitude toward the mentally ill, believing the mentally ill should seek religious cures."
An opinion shared by myself and others is that mental illness is just like diabetes or heart disease, with biological, psychological and social causes. I remind my students that mental (and physical) illness is no respecter of persons, and that those of us with our faculties somewhat in tact, have truly won the lottery, and it is our great obligation to be less judgmental, more tolerant, and yes more loving toward the so called "losers". At this point in our divine progression, we don't know the "why's" and "what for's" and should constantly be reminded that "There but for the grace of God go I".