Mental Illness Awareness Week is the first week in October. This is a wonderful opportunity to partner with community groups in your area to raise awareness about mental illness. This e-Spotlight will include information and resources to help you make the most of this educational opportunity.
The National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Awareness Recovery and Understanding is Tuesday, October 7. This day of prayer was initiated by Angela Vickers, JD of NAMI Florida and Gunnar Christiansen, MD of NAMI California in 2004. It has had widespread support by individual congregations and National Faith Community Mental Illness Networks. The prayers and actions of both faith communities and secular organizations (e.g. NAMI, NMHA, DBSA, OCF, ADAA, etc.) are needed to restore mental wellness in America. In seeking God's guidance, we can recommit ourselves to replacing misinformation, blame, fear and prejudice with truth and love in order to offer hope to all who are touched by mental illness.
You can download a resource with liturgies to use for the National Day of Prayer on the Home page of the Mental Health Ministries website. This resource is available in English and Spanish. Many faith communities have sponsored an interfaith candle lighting service using a liturgy written by Carole J. Wills that is included in this resource. These prayers and liturgies, however, can be used at any time during the year.
National Depression Screening Day (NDSD) will be held on Friday, October 10th, 2008. NDSD screening sites are sponsored by hospitals, mental health centers, government agencies, social service agencies, advocacy organizations, colleges, primary care clinics, workplaces, healthcare companies AND some faith communities. These screening programs now include both in-person and online programs for depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, alcohol problems and suicide prevention. There is a special link for persons in the military.
It is important to let members of your congregation know about screening sites in your area. If we can reach persons with undetected and untreated mental disorders, we can encourage them to seek appropriate treatment. If we talk about mental illness like any other illness, we will help to reduce the stigma and shame associated with these brain disorders. It is also helpful if faith leaders have the names of mental health professionals in order to provide appropriate referral information at any time of the year.
For more information, visit www.MentalHealthScreening.org and click on "For the Public" to the link "find a screening site in your area" tab.
I've received a number of inquiries as many groups are planning fall conferences. I have given some suggestions on how to begin in the resource, Guidelines for Organizing a Successful Conference. I'm sure many of you have other creative ideas of what has worked for you. This resource is available on our Home page.
For persons not ready to tackle a conference or mini-conference, a small group study is a great way to raise awareness in your faith community about mental illness. I believe most of the successful programs start from the "bottom up" with concerned lay persons raising issues and encouraging their faith leaders to work toward becoming a caring congregation.
Again, our resource Creating Caring Congregations , has been the most helpful to many communities to raise awareness about mental illness in adolescents, adults and older adults. It also presents the five step caring congregations model of education, commitment, welcome, support and advocacy. This DVD includes a user-friendly discussion guide and there are many free downloadable resources on our website.
Because we have this resource in a close captioned DVD format, we are liquidating our inventory of VHS videos . These videos are available for half price - $10 each on the website. This resource is closed captioned and does include the discussion guide.
Many congregations have used my book, In the Shadow of God's Wings: Grace in the Midst of the Shadows that shares my personal journey with major depression and presents six "gifts of the shadow" that emerged as I moved toward recovery. Being a former teacher, I wrote a four week small group study to go with my book . These books are available on the website our through the publisher, Upper Room Books, at http://www.upperroom.org .
I was in northern Europe (the Baltic countries) for three weeks in August. I had the opportunity to speak to a number of persons about mental illness. Because the Scandinavian countries have socialized medicine, there is less stigma. I was impressed that Denmark routinely screens all returning military personnel for PTSD.
Because of the darkness in the winter, people in the Scandinavian countries talk openly talk about depression or seasonal affective disorder. The architecture includes many windows and sky lights. IKEA, started in Sweden, offers many types of creative lighting products.
As expected, people from the former Soviet Union tend to be mostly silent about mental illness. The jokes about drinking Vodka seem to be grounded in some reality as there is a high incidence of alcoholism. Depression among persons in East Germany is high as older persons have had trouble adjusting to the opportunities available to them in a free Germany. The unemployment rate is very high and many people lack the motivation to get re-trained for a job. The old Soviet high rise buildings are uniformly depressing. I heard resentment as the cost of supporting these persons is on the shoulders of those that live in the former West Germany.
The first step in creating "caring congregations" is education. Once mental illness is a "safe" topic to talk about, your congregation can begin to find ways to minister to and with persons with a mental illness and their families. Each congregation is unique. We are gratified that some of our resources have been helpful in breaking down the barriers of fear, ignorance and stigma associated with illnesses of the brain.
Many of you have found your own creative and effective ways of raising awareness about mental illness. You can read some of the ideas that have worked for other communities in the Your Ideas section of our website. We encourage you to submit your own ideas for inclusion in this section.
Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do.
~ Helen Keller
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119