"No-casserole Diseases"

Barbara F. Meyers

In the course of my ministry to people with mental health issues and their loved ones, a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation told me the following story. Her daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia; the condition affected her life every day, and she had been repeatedly hospitalized. When her mother told me this story, her daughter had been in a psychiatric ward for several weeks. The family was endeavoring to visit her every evening, often rushing from work to the hospital, just grabbing from the refrigerator anything that might serve for dinner on the way out of the door.

Meanwhile, her husband had been asked if he could provide a meal for a family in the congregation who had a family member recovering from a serious operation. He agreed, cooked a meal, and delivered it to the family, while skipping a meal himself and rushing with his wife to the psychiatric hospital to visit their daughter. Neither the minister nor anyone in the congregation was visiting her, nor had they been asked to do so.

After a few days, his wife considered this situation and thought, “Wait a minute! Why was he asked to prepare a meal for a family with a hospitalized member, when we are in a similar situation and no one is bringing us meals? Is there a double standard here?”

The answer is yes. There is a double standard.

It is common practice in most Unitarian Universalist faith communities to offer many forms of pastoral care to people and families coping with trauma or physical illness. But all too often mental illness goes unseen and unattended to. Mental illnesses are sometimes called “no-casserole diseases.” People don’t bring casseroles to homes where someone is hospitalized for mental problems. Discomfort, unexamined assumptions about mental illness, and cultural norms isolate people and families who are in desperate need of community support.

—an excerpt (pp. 1-2) from Held: Showing Up for Each Other's Mental Health