4-Eyes, the Big C, and Family Values

Compassionate Love:  Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness   
(c)2015 Nancy Virden

photo-24729349-surprised-smiley-with-glasses.Fourth Grade in 1970. A little red-head returned to our classroom sporting new frames. She looked awkward and embarrassed. Mean boys wasted no time and started laughing at her expense.  They called her “four-eyes.”

Grocery store circa. early 1970s. A woman wandered up and down store aisles looking tired. A bandana covered her apparently bald head. No one engaged her although many of us looked. She was, in my young judgment, either one of those crazy feminist-types or she had the Big-C.  Both ideas made me cautious in her presence.

Church service in 1977. A family of four sat toward the back of a mid-size sanctuary. Recently, they had been a family of five; this day a parent was missing due to divorce. Now it was as if they were sad oddballs as adults tried to not look while reprimanding their children for staring.

Stigma has always been damaging. It isolates people who hurt and keeps potential supports hidden behind ignorance and fear. When we agree to discuss ideas with people who are different from us, we learn and grow in exciting ways.

Stigma surrounding major depression is an unfortunate assumption that weakness equals failure. In the case of a suicide, failure may be attributed to those loved ones left behind.

Just yesterday, in only four hours at my table at a small, church basement flea market,  I met three people who told me about family members and friends lost to suicide decades ago. Two openly expressed helpless regret that they could have, should have done something to stop it, blaming themselves after all these years.

Culture changes. Glasses are now cool, designed to express the wearer’s unique personality.  Cancer is recognized and talked about. Divorce is always hard, but from what I have observed is not seen as the antithesis to family values.   

No one celebrates poor eyesight, cancer, or divorce. The pain is real. De-stigmatizing something doesn’t mean we ignore the negative side of the problem, it means we address it and accept imperfection as normal.

Next time you hear about a suicide, try to speak of it in compassionate terms. Suicide is sad and tragic. Talking about it opens minds and hearts.


  NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

*pictures from QualityStockPhotos.com



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