Well Community members know what it’s like to be defined by their illnesses. They’re familiar with feeling unwanted, judged and unworthy of others’ respect because they live with conditions that impact their minds. In short, they know stigma well.
Members of The Well describe the negative attitudes and misconceptions they face in the community—and sometimes even in their own families—in numerous ways. Rita explains how others don’t trust her because of her illness. “I guess they’re scared,” she says. Lydia talks about how one of her sisters saw her as “a freak, a weirdo.” Brian shares that others are often intimidated by those dealing with mental health challenges, and how individuals suffering from these conditions can be easy targets for crimes.
Misconceptions about mental illness often form the foundation for stigma. False beliefs—for example, that those suffering from mental health conditions are violent or unintelligent—lead to negative attitudes that manifest as unkindness and discrimination. These ideas also result in fear, which often cultivates disregard for those dealing with mental illnesses, leaving these individuals feeling unworthy and alone.
But, The Well is a place where acceptance and community take the place of rejection and isolation. Member Tammie sums it up well: “On the street, you’re an eyesore. Here, they embrace you with the defects.” Another member, John, adds that The Well makes members feel “like they’re a part of the community rather than just being an outcast. It brings them together.”
Volunteers help to make The Well a place where the fear that both feeds and results from stigma is absent. Serena, who gives her time to help serve meals, as well as lead devotions and other activities for members, explains that taking the time to see members for who they really are chases away this fear:
I think many of us are hesitant, uncomfortable, cautious about people who appear to be different than we are. And we don’t know how to approach them; we don’t know what to say or what not to say, so we just kind of ignore. …
There’s nothing to be afraid of. If you really take the time and the patience to look in [Well Community members’] eyes and look into their hearts, you’ll see beauty much more than you would imagine. They are honest, straight-up people. … There’s nothing about it to be ashamed of or be afraid of because they’re just good people trying to do the best they can, as most of us are.
As individuals struggling with mental illnesses are seen as people with worth and welcomed as they are, they’re able to enjoy a respite from the attitudes and treatment they face outside the doors of The Well Community. “The Well is a place that has provided [members with] the ability to come with unconditioned acceptance,” says Carol Arbuckle, who regularly serves lunches at The Well Community with her husband and other family and friends. “Those who come to The Well are cared about. It’s a safe place. They can have community within themselves.”
Well member Brian echoes Carol’s observation. “There’s no judging here. … You’re going to be accepted,” he says. “This is a place where you can be yourself and people understand.”
“Our volunteers are a vital part of helping to restore dignity to our members,” says Alice Zaccarello, Executive Director. “Also, it is when people from the larger community interact with people at The Well that myths surrounding mental illness are dismantled. Stigma gets exposed for what it is and gets replaced by respect and compassion.”
Volunteer at The Well Community and help us tear down stigma and restore self-worth for our members. There are many ways to help. Read more about volunteer opportunities and contact us to learn how you could use your skills and gifts to serve those living with serious mental illnesses.