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Minister pleads for change of attitudes towards mental illness


Rev Dr. Scott Peddie.A CRUMLIN Minister who has battled depression is urging people suffering from mental illness not to be afraid to be more open and seek help.

Rev Dr. Scott Peddie of First Presbyterian Church has struggled with severe depression most of his adult life and believes that talking about mental illness will help more people who are suffering in silence to come forward.

"Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, and it's not something to be ashamed of," the former marine biologist said.

It was during a stressful time in his teens that Rev Peddie's condition manifested itself.

The Scottish born minister had shown occasional signs of depression before but it was while studying for his marine biology exams at Aberdeen University that his depression became so severe that he sought help from his GP. At the age of 18 he was diagnosed with depression.

He had become very down and unsociable and could not function well. When he went to seek help from his GP he was given medication, much needed guidance and support and was put on a two year psychotherapy treatment programme.

More recently he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder - manic depression.

Rev Peddie's condition, which is serious and requires a lifetime of treatment, is characterised with periods of severe depression followed by mania/hypomania which manifests itself in over-work, lots of activity and an unstoppable flow of ideas.

"What saddens me most about the wider perception of mental illness is that sufferers are stigmatised and the subject of much ignorance and uniformed speculation," he said

"The Christian community is often the first to judge and the last to change ingrained attitudes and to offer support where that is needed. There are many Christians who suffer from this disease, in all its different forms and manifestations, and it's important to do all that we can, both collectively and individually, to combat the stigma."

Some famous bipolar sufferers include John Bunyon, Ralph Waldo Emerson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Elgar, Hoist, Rachmaninov, Edvard Munch, Leo Tolstoy and Hans Christian Andersen.

According to statistics one' in four people will suffer some sort of mental illness during their lives, whereas one in three suffer from cancer at some stage in their lives.

"Although the statistics on the incidence of these two diseases are similar, societal perception is poles apart," he said. "Mental illness is just not talked about; it is still seen in many quarters as a sign of 'weakness', or a 'character failing'.

"Diseases such as bipolar disorder are often characterised thus, despite the overwhelming evidence that they have a biological basis, just like cancer and diabetes and a plethora of other common illnesses. There is growing evidence, and an almost universal acknowledgement in the research community, that genes are a major player in bipolar disorder, yet it seems nevertheless to have made little impact on the public understanding of this disease.

"Why is that we are more willing to be sympathetic towards someone who has a malfunctioning pancreas and less sympathetic towards an individual who has a biochemical imbalance in their brain? Is this covert form of discrimination acceptable?

"It's important to remember that having a mental illness is not someone's fault, it's not a sign of weakness, and it's not something to be ashamed of. "Some church communities are excellent in ministering to those who are mentally ill; many are not, mainly because mental health issues are 'swept under the carpet' and not tackled head on.

"This does a disservice to the Gospel message of love, acceptance and understanding. For example, in John 13:34-35 it is written: 'A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another'. This love is not discriminatory; it is not a love that is restricted as human love is by prejudice and misunderstanding. "Christianity is a faith bathed in hope — hope for the dispossessed and marginalised, hope for the misunderstood and the forgotten, hope for those who struggle daily with the burden of mental illness, and hope for those who find mental illness difficult to understand and to accept. "We are gently reminded of this great hope in Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV), where Paul writes: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus'."

Twenty years on Rev Peddie feels that by talking and being more open about his condition helps and he hopes it will help others.

Married with two young children he can now deal with his condition. During these times he does not overcommit himself, take on too much work or overwork himself because he functions with just an hour or two of sleep each night. This can go on for some time before it is followed by what Scott describes as a 'crash'.

"I am good at masking it over and appearing to be functioning well," said Rev Peddie. "My family, especially my wife can recognise the symptoms and help me through it. My family are very important and a great support to me.'

He feels that he is lucky to have the care and support from his family. As a sufferer for 20 years Dr Peddie feels that he is more in control. "I am in much more in tune with my mind and I find it important to get help," he said.

I would encourage people to speak to someone about their illness. If they are not comfortable with talking to people there are services out there. Go to your GP or speak to your minister speak to a friend.

"The big issue that I have is the stigma that goes along with mental illness and the misunderstanding of the condition. People do not want to talk about it. They may not understand it.

"The health service do a great good job with help and support but there is still that stigma among people. It is an illness that people feel that they do not want to talk or cannot talk about.

"I fear that the stigma associated with mental illness people are less likely to seek help and be open and upfront about their illness they feel that they have no-one to talk to. They feel isolated. Unfortunately, all too often some people misunderstand the condition and do not see it is a real condition because they cannot understand it."

Ulster Star