Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Mental Health and the Christian Community

Mental Health  Awareness Week. Hunger Awareness Week. Monarch Butterfly Week. Take your pick from May 5th to 12th this year! Rather than choose one of them I would rather muse about all three, and I'll start with mental health.

If you have been reading this blog for a while you know that I keep coming  back to this subject. It's because it is so important in a society which still doesn't know how to respond to those who live with mental illness. It can be anything from chronic depression or anxiety which isn't all that evident to others, to illnesses such as bipolar and schizophrenia which can take over a person's psyche. While mental illness is not simply a matter of the will and often runs in families, there are still a lot of people who fail to understand this, and can be disturbingly critical and unkind. I wish I could say that congregations are sanctuaries from this lack of comprehension and support, but they aren't always, because they are made up of so many different people.

I do feel that over the course of 30+ years of ministry we have come to a much better awareness of mental health issues, both in society and in the church. Folk who in years past would be afraid to speak of what they were experiencing either personally or in their families have become much more willing and able to name their realities and invite support.

We still have a way to go. We need those in law enforcement to recognize mental health issues more readily. Not long ago I wrote about two pairs of police officers here in Belleville who responded to situations at the church with impressive patience and kindness, so I am encouraged. We need governments to make sure that funding and infrastructure for mental health care is on a level with physical health care. We need to train clergy and laypersons in how to respond with patience and compassion and without fear. I worked with a parish nurse in my last pastoral situation who was exemplary in her practical and loving response to those who were dealing with mental illness. Fear is such a huge factor in responding to those with mental health challenges, and Jesus did say that love casts out fear.

I will keep writing and raising the issues along the way, because Christ's abundant life is meant for everyone.



Judy Mcknight said...

As a learning experience, maybe we need to invite a specialist in mental health issues to come and speak to us some evening, so that we church members have a better understanding of how to relate to folk who have mental health issues, especially the ones who come to our doors, but also those whom we meet in daily life.

janet.rice said...

David - you too are "exemplary in YOUR practical and loving response to those who are dealing with mental illness."

roger said...

Such a very important topic, and thankfully it does seem to be more open for discussion these days. With mental illness touching so many lives - both those afflicted as well as their families - we need to keep working on it.

I think there should be even more focus on mental health in the school curriculum. It is tough enough being a youth, but adding to that serious issues like personality disorders or bipolar disorder, etc, makes it that much more important to address at an earlier age.