Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Honest Talk about Mental Health
On this Bell Let's Talk mental health awareness day I've been thinking of the people I've known in different congregations I have served who've lived with mental illness. Some were secretly ill, even though that was often not the case. Friends and especially family were well aware of the illnesses, everything from anxiety to bipolar illness, which affected loved ones. Parents wanted to help adult children but couldn't even be told diagnoses. Successful individuals struggled to get out of bed in the morning because of depression. Some have died at their own hands.
In Sudbury there was a relatively young downtown guy who would talk to himself and shout randomly, scaring the bejabbers out of passers-by. He ambushed me a couple of times, although only verbally. He wasn't threatening, but jarringly loud.
He also came to church from time to time ( I wish I could remember his name!) He would sit at the very back and never shouted in the sanctuary. He did respond vocally to my rhetorical sermon questions, which was an adventure. I would be trucking along in my message, pose a question as a homiletical device, and he would chime in. He was so smart and so tuned in that other congregants would ask if he had been a plant, which he definitely wasn't. I would thank him, collect myself, and carry on.
I found out along the way that he developed schizophrenia when he went away to university. He had to drop out, never to return to school. He became the strange dude who everyone avoided it they could.
Mental illness takes so many forms and besets people at different stages of life with varying severity. The gospels tell us that Jesus turned toward rather than away from those whose mental illness caused them to be outcasts. Part of our "talk" today can be about welcoming those into our faith communities who seem different and even scary. We can find the courage to speak to those who we might wonder are dealing with depression. When I read this it seems so straightforward, yet we are still overcoming prejudices and fears.