Have you ever felt the pain of being disbelieved? If you have, you’ll know how helpless it makes you feel. Many of us living with mental illness know such pain.

It’s true. There may be times when people with mental illness have delusions that cause them to believe things that are not really true. But to assume this to be the case for anyone living with such a condition is wrong. It amounts to unwarranted discrimination.

When a conflict develops between a person known to have mental health difficulties and a person with apparently good mental health, the words of the person with a history of mental illness are frequently suspect. Sometimes not even listened to.  The common view is applied: “A person with mental illness cannot be regarded as a credible witness.”

Professor Sir Graham Thornicroft, author of Shunned, Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness expresses the injustice of such a situation: “Once a person has been defined mentally ill, his or her protests are often discredited, or even worse, labelled one more symptom of his or her illness.”

Speaking as one who has been a victim of such disbelief, I have come to see that it’s not because of who we are, but because of what we are. It’s all because of a label.

You may say, surely there are times when there are valid reasons to disbelieve a person with mental health issues. Paranoia could play a part, causing “victims” to imagine wrongs done to them. Or the victims might be overly sensitive, wrongly interpreting a person to be deliberately hurting them.

But it would be unjust to disregard a victim’s story. Though we have a mental illness we, like everyone else, deserve the opportunity to tell our story. Not to be heard is a denial of justice.

And when we are heard, will we be seen for who we are? Will it be realized that mental illness is only a part of who we are? Will people look beyond our label, at the people we are? Real people, just like everyone else?

What can we as supporters do?

By all means, be kind and listen to their story. Show them that you’re listening attentively and that you care about what they’re going through. Consider standing up with them as an advocate protecting their rights.

When we look at the above, we as Christians, need to remember Jesus’ story. The Bible shows that even Jesus, our example for how to live and love, was humiliated in similar ways. What he said wasn’t believed either. Jesus, too, was declared mentally ill, even by his family who said he was “beside himself” (Mark 3:21). He was taunted and mocked.

Reading from John 10:19-21:

The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”

But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”  

“Why listen to him?’

The eternal truths Jesus spoke two thousand years ago live on, even today. We have learned that we should listen to him. His words can be relied upon. They are words we can trust.

Could you imagine what the world would be like if Jesus hadn’t been listened to?


This has been Part 13 of the series In the Name of Jesus, For Part 14 go to Tell them of his love.

(I’m not a professional caregiver. Since 2006, I have given spiritual support as a peer to people living with all sorts of mental health issues. I write from the point of view of someone who has been there and understands—someone who wants to share the faith she has found in God.)