Casseroles, church, and the stigma of kids with mental illness

CasserolesThis past Sunday night, 60 Minutes presented a remarkable segment on the topic of  mentally ill kids in crisis.

I was searching online for the video earlier today and came across some additional footage the producers of the segment were unable to use in the segment. In this footage, Scott Pelley (the correspondent who presented the segment), the producers, and a group of mothers of children at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital discuss the stigma of raising a mentally  ill child…

Shortly after the 4:00 mark in this video, Scott tossed out this question…

SP: What is the difference between being the mother of a child who has mental illness and the mother of a child who has heart disease or cancer?

Mothers: Sympathy…empathy…empathy…casseroles.

SP: Casseroles? What do you mean?

Mothers: Somebody needs to share the casserole story.

My daughter, when she was thirteen was hit by a car and fortunately was fine, except for a very bad broken leg. The church organized a brigade of casserole makers, the neighbors brought casseroles, friends, families, everybody. Six months before that, Christina had spent two months on a psychiatric ward, and we had no casseroles. And I’m not blaming the church or the neighbors or anything…because of the stigma, we didn’t tell people.

We can’t allow the enemy to use the stigma of mental illness to keep families out of church! We, as church, also have a remarkable opportunity to share the love of Christ with many families who, because of stigma, may be too embarrassed to let us know when they are in need.

Here’s the entire segment…


600817_10200479396001791_905419060_nConfused about all the changes in diagnostic terminology for kids with mental heath disorders? Key Ministry has a resource page summarizing our recent blog series examining the impact of the DSM-5 on kidsClick this link for summary articles describing the changes in diagnostic criteria for conditions common among children and teens, along with links to other helpful resources!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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4 Responses to Casseroles, church, and the stigma of kids with mental illness

  1. Ann Holmes says:

    That’s a great point – about the casseroles! Makes my heart hurt! Thanks again!


  2. Yes, I personally have experienced the same thing. I had much more support when I broke my back in an auto accident than when I suffered a severe debilitating depression. A recent study, and my personal experience, however, show that medicalizing “mental illness” has not stopped the stigma. It has continued it.

    This early labeling of kids in crisis and calling them all “mentally ill” with a DSM 5 diagnosis separates them, singles them out as the problem, alienates them, shames them, etc. If these highly educated white middle class parents felt ashamed, just think how the kids feel. I think that referring to them as “mentally ill kids” continues to be stigmatizing and I wouldn’t use that language. It really isn’t very helpful as a label since what is called “mental illness” has so many variations.

    Kids can have reactions to difficult circumstances which are pretty normal reactions. We need to realize that kids may be exposed to domestic violence, divorce, custody battles, abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, bullying, alcoholism in the family, job loss in the family, homelessness, foreclosure, lengthy unemployment, frequent moves, poverty, illness or disability or death in the family and many other challenging life circumstances.

    Many of these situations are also covered up by the family and then the child is the one who is singled out as having and BEING the problem.

    What is the point of using that designation in a church ministry?


    • Dr. G says:

      Hi Diane,

      Thanks for your comments. One of the challenges in discussing the need is figuring out the best verbiage for describing the population we’re trying to help churches serve. How do you think we should describe them?


  3. Sue says:

    I recently wrote two blog posts on the casserole concept and then googled – I was shocked at how many blog posts exist on this topic. And yes I can see that the stigma keeps people from church both in practical ways and in feeling isolated and rejected. I also was heartened to see churches taking the leading role – setting up NAMI chapters, organizing casserole brigades, educating the members, etc.


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