Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Honest Talk about Mental Health

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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.



roger said...

Unfortunately, the mental health system has some serious problems, and people are getting lost in the system. There aren't enough psychiatrists, and wait times to see one can be lengthy. This is very problematic to someone with clinical depression.

We as a society need to stop stigmatizing mental health issues such as depression, so that people are less fearful of telling their families that they need help.

For those of us who are not suffering from mental health issues, we are not better, we are just luckier.

Lori Graham said...

We do need to stop stigmatizing mental illness. I'd also add that we tend to rely too much on medication. Medication has its place, but I feel more emphasis should be put on person to person interaction. Someone I love has been on medication for decades. I can't remember the last time this person saw an actual doctor. I also feel many people believe that medication is the only viable treatment. And that those who look at other possibilities can be made to feel unwelcome at the doctor's office.

David Mundy said...

Thanks to both of you for thoughtful observations. I agree that medication has both strengths and limitations. I have seen individuals climb out of the pit of mental illness on the ladder of medication, and it was literally a life-saver. There is tremendous value in the interpersonal, including communities of caring. That's where faith communities can make a difference.

none said...

Further to the thoughtful comments above......I can't resist weighing in as this is a subject close to my heart, as David well knows. My experience as an observer has taught me that the very best approach is a combination of the two - meds and talk therapy. One enhances the other as "either/or" leaves limitations, as David observes. Doctors can hastily write out a script for meds; the problem is the availability of counselling and support services within the community. And yes, the faith community can play a significant role, but we have to get mental illness out of the closet first. Thanks to Bell Lets Talk, Clara Hughes and others for spearheading this effort. Today's Globe & Mail contains almost a full section on depression suffered my an Irving, a prominent Maritime family. Kudos to them for speaking out. Mental illness crosses all segments of society. Let's take ownership and spare suffering for so many patients and their families.

none said...

PS - David - "none" is, as you may have suspected!

David Mundy said...

Thanks for adding your thoughts Janet. The Globe article is "must-read." It is lengthy, but very worth the effort.

Linda said...

We definitely need to talk more about mental health, because (sadly) I believe there is still a stigma. I have struggled with depression for decades and although (thank God) I am in a much better place now than I was in the past, it is something that we have to live with and deal with. Thank you so much for your post about this. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)

David Mundy said...

Thanks for adding to the conversation Linda.