Sitting across from me at a tea room was the mother of a young adult. From the outside, you would not find any indication of the pain she was battling inside. The statement she made broke my heart. “I think people believe the struggles our family has been facing around our daughter’s mood disorder are contagious.”
Several weeks before, I had been sitting at Mosaics with a mother who had lost her infant daughter. She had made a similar comment about grief and that many people worry if they support you in your pain; there is a chance you might go through a similar situation in the future.
Day in and day out, these families are fighting a battle. Weary and worn, they turn from the battlefront, and all the backup has fled. It doesn’t seem to matter the faith, gender, or culture that surrounds the family. There is a fear that someone’s troubles will rub off and contaminate those around them.
I went to the research and studies support what these families are experiencing. There was a study done by Marsh and Shanks on how likely people believed it would be to catch a mental disorder. A few of the statistics listed were that 56% felt that way about alcohol abuse, 35% about anorexia, and 32% about a mood disorder.
Where the confusion may be happening is that emotions can be “contagious.” When we are around someone who is anxious or stressed, our anxiety may be heightened after a period of time. Or someone sad may lead to a downturn in our spirits. However, this is different than catching an emotional disorder. These are not conditions that will stick with us.
We develop these unconscious biases that we often don’t even realize we are living out. If we do not take the time to stop and examine them, we may be missing opportunities to provide support to those people in our lives that need it. Having support is one of the very things prescribed to help improve the trajectory of their mental struggle or the families’ ability to support their loved ones well.
What are your unconscious biases? Are they affecting your ability to support someone in your midst? How can you step out of that today and stand beside someone in their battle?