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The terms psychiatric disability, mental illness, mental health condition, and brain disorder all describe a wide range of conditions that affect the way a person thinks, acts, and feels. Although the cause of mental illness is not fully understood, these conditions can have intertwined biochemical, psychological, and environmental roots. Many people recover from mental illness, other people have ongoing difficulties, and some people continue to experience periodic episodes that require acute treatment. The intensity and durations of symptoms differ from person to person and can generally be controlled by medication and/or psychotherapy.
Mental illnesses are complex; diagnostic labels and treatment modalities change with each publication of the American Psychiatric Association's official manual. Our goal is to encourage you to be involved with a person rather than to be concerned with a diagnostic label. As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and one of the most effective ways we can act on that principle is to treat people as individuals. Each of us is more than the sum of the labels that society may place on us.
At the same time, it is helpful to have some education and understanding about some of the more prevalent ways that mental illnesses are delineated in order to de-stigmatize and de-mythologize their existence. The more we know about the facts of a "mental illness", the more we can separate the "illness" from the individual. The most common categorization of mental illnesses includes:
There are over 40 million Americans with some form of mental illness, including an estimated 3 million (one in twenty) youth. One in five American families are affected. Yet these numbers are hidden by the powerful stigma of mental illness that causes individuals to hide their own and families to hide a family member's mental illness, often isolating individuals and families when they need community connection most. Support from their faith community can make the difference between life and death.
Remember, each person is unique, whether or not they have psychiatric problems. Therefore, it is impossible to make universal statements about what will enable us all, in our diversity, to be welcomed through accommodation. As with all reciprocal relationships, it is always important and appropriate to ask the people being welcomed what will work for them.
Until you know someone with a psychiatric disability, you may never have had any need to think about the key points that can make relationships easier and more relaxed. With the intent to create a welcoming and relaxed environment for everyone, here are some ground rules we should all keep in mind.
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Last updated on Wednesday, April 20, 2011.
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Pathways to Promise: Ministry and Mental Illness
Mental Illness and the Church: an Annotated Bibliography
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