Chris Naylor is a senior community support worker with a strong Christian faith.
Chris also lives with depression and generalised anxiety disorder.
Chris experienced a “severe bout of clinical depression” after a friend passed away in his early twenties. He was hospitalised for a few weeks and, post-recovery, has dedicated his life to helping others – and fighting mental distress discrimination – in her memory ever since.
Discovering that prejudice exists
Chris has lived with depression since his mid-teens and was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder in 2018.
“For the most part, I manage and deal with it quite well, leading a normal life, really,” he says.
However, Chris found that people’s discriminatory attitudes towards his mental distress made life harder.
“Shortly before I was admitted to Wellington Hospital, a flatmate said: ''if I’d known you had depression, I wouldn’t have lived with you"."
“That comment stuck with me for years. The judgement that goes with that is like putting a building up on top of someone else’s shoulders.
“It really stalled my own recovery journey at that time.”
The extent of the problem
As Chris became more aware of the prejudices some have about mental distress, he started to notice it in places he wouldn’t expect.
“As strange as it sounds, some of the most difficult experiences have been in church circles. People who you expect to be the most understanding because of their faith in God can sometimes be judgmental, and that’s never a nice thing,” he says.
“There’s an unwritten expectation in the Christian faith that you’re meant to have it all together.”
Chris also noticed discriminatory behaviour towards his mental distress experiences at work and in the media.
“I’ve had experiences with one parent who employed me as a support worker and knows I live with mental distress. I get treated in a different manner by her, it’s not easy and not nice.
“Blatant negative stereotyping of mental illness or distress in the media and advertising is just plain shocking, really! In a country where mental illness is so prevalent, it’s beyond my understanding.”
The effects of being discriminated against
Chris wants readers to know that discriminating against people who live with mental distress, whether it be through your words, behaviour or by excluding others, has real effects on people.
“Being labelled feels pretty stink, really. It will affect my mood and my anxiety, whether I want it to or not.
“The people who label me and others, they’re not putting themselves in someone else’s shoes to see how they might feel in the same situation.
“Their discrimination unnecessarily sets us apart from the rest of society.”
Chris challenges mental distress prejudice today by speaking out against it.
“When I experience people’s prejudiced attitudes in life or on social media, I am usually quick to speak up in a respectful manner and try and say something that will cause them to reflect on their own actions.”
Experiencing mental distress has made Chris “stronger as a character” and stronger in his stance against stigma.
“We need to stamp out stigma and create an environment that demystifies mental illness and empowers people with mental illness to disclose.
“Whether you have experiences of family having mental distress or not, you can still be there for people and carry hope for them. You don’t have to know what someone’s going through, but you can listen non-judgmentally.”