This I Believe, December 2013: Melissa Hensley

“Believing in God and in One’s Self.”

Melissa A. Hensley is an assistant professor in the Social Work department.

I lead a monthly “Empowerment Workshop” at a mental health agency in a nearby county.  The people who attend the group choose the topic for discussion each month, focusing on self-care, wellness, and recovery from serious mental illness.

Recently, I was facilitating a discussion on building self-esteem. The group members and I were discussing a worksheet that we’d all completed. The worksheet asked us to list positive qualities we possessed, compliments we’d received recently, and challenges that we had overcome. As we were taking turns sharing our responses, the conversation came around to a middle-aged woman seated at the back of the conference room. She stated that she could not think of anything good about herself. I was surprised at first, but I tried to respond in an encouraging way.

This triggered much sadness because I have known so many people with mental illness who have had similar struggles with self-worth. Societal stigma and discrimination, along with the distress of depression and other symptoms, can thwart efforts at self-care and destroy self-confidence. This ongoing struggle with self-esteem can interfere with even the most determined efforts to recover.

Given this situation, what do I believe? I believe that every person, even those with severe disabilities, have God-given attributes that are meant to be shared in community. I believe that all of us have a right to be treated with respect and compassion. Disabilities or chronic illnesses do not render us less deserving of fair treatment.

I believe that God has created each unique individual in order to build a more vibrant community. I believe that as a Christian, I am responsible for extending love, respect, compassion, and hospitality to everyone I meet. I believe that all of us can contribute to God’s community.

What about the woman in my self-esteem group? I expressed my sadness to her regarding the fact that she could not see the good in herself.  I also urged her to hang on to the worksheet and to think about the questions it asked. I encouraged her to ask people that she knows and trusts to share their observations of her good qualities with her. I encouraged her not to give up, but to seek the good in herself and her life. We all have strengths and gifts to share with each other. Thank God for community, wellness, and recovery!