Joann Davis is the director of Ministry with Persons with disAbilities for the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. While her office provides services to people with all manner of disAbilities, ministry to people with brain disorders drew her attention for this article.
"Our ministry created a support group called Christians Concerned about Mental Illness (CCMI) to help the families - especially the caregivers - of persons with brain disorders. CCMI meets monthly at the diocesan center for prayer and fellowship. Our group offers a safe, caring environment of support for those dealing with the challenges of caring for a loved one with a brain disorder. Our ministry also offers a CCMI day retreat at St. Francis Retreat Center. This year it's on Wednesday, June 6.
"One of the most powerful ways we help caregivers is by sharing our own stories. Many CCMI members go through similar situations and can help by sharing their experiences with others. By sharing their stories, CCMI folks help themselves also.
"Caring for someone with a brain disorder can be a long process involving the whole family. In keeping track of everyone else, caregivers often neglect themselves and their own needs. CCMI stresses the importance of caregivers resting their bodies, renewing their minds and nurturing their spirits to enable them to care more effectively for others.
"Another challenge is caregivers who can get so immersed in taking care of others that they lose sight of their personal strengths. We all have talents to share, though some don't recognize it. Through CCMI, we try to draw out caregivers and help them recognize their gifts and talents. We often surprise caregivers when we recognize the patience they show their loved one, for example, or their tenacity and resourcefulness in getting services. Once they recognize them, they sometimes feel empowered to share their skills with others.
"This happened at St. James Church in Mason. The CCMI group there meets on the second Tuesday of the month. They welcome families, friends and anyone coping with the impact of mental illness. The group's mission statement is to share and convey the compassion of Christ for persons with mental illness and those concerned for them.
"The group members recognize the immense need to overcome the stigma and stereotyping that continue to surround persons mental illness - those can make it even more difficult to cope with and recover from the illness. It is especially important that the faith community provides spiritual strength to bring about the hope and help so desperately needed by those who are affected by brain disorders.
"The diocesan Ministry with Persons with disAbilities has a lending library containing videos and resources that can be shared at parish gatherings or, as they do at St. James, included in parish bulletins or other publications. Catholic Charities Agencies throughout the diocese offer counseling and guidance to people with mental health issues. Please contact your local agency if mental illness affects you or someone you love.
"One in four Americans suffers from some form of mental illness during their lifetimes, from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, to name a few. These illnesses affect not just the individual but the whole family and others in the community as well. It can bring peace and hope to know there are experienced, gifted people who struggle with mental illness and who are ready to share the compassion of Christ through CCMI."
(Article taken from Diocesan Service Appeal Special Issue of "Faith Magazine" 2007)