We know that the holiday season can magnify the stresses of everyday life for most of us but especially persons living with a mental illness. This Spotlight includes information and resources for faith leaders, family members and friends and who may find the holidays a difficult time.
This holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy, parties and gatherings with friends and family. But the holidays can be a stressful time under the best of conditions. The commercialization of the holiday season bombards us with unrealistic expectations especially in this troubled economy. The brochure, Mental Illness: Coping with the Holidays, provides helpful self care tips for persons living with a mental illness, tips for families and friends and tips for communities of faith. You can download this resource from the Mental Health Ministries website in English or Spanish.
As winter approaches and the days get shorter, many people suffer with a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Although SAD isn’t totally understood, it is a real illness with real symptoms that vary in frequency and intensity. During the darkest nights of the winter, many faith traditions celebrate religious holidays. With SAD, as with all chronic mental illnesses and normal holiday stress, our faith communities can be intentional about finding ways to encourage a healthy winter holiday season that focuses on our faith, our families and our friends. A bulletin insert/flyer, What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? is available on the Mental Health Ministries Home page.
Not everyone is up and cheery for the holidays. Some people feel blue as in “the blues” at Christmas. Dealing with the death of a loved one, facing life after divorce or separation, coping with the loss of a job or of a home, living with cancer, struggling with chronic mental illness or other dis-ease make the holiday festivities a difficult and painful time for many persons in our congregations and in our communities.
Faith communities are increasingly attentive to the needs of people who are “blue” during this holiday season. They are creating sacred space and hospitable settings to include those who face various kinds of losses, grief or depression. Such services are reflective, accepting the reality of where we are emotionally. They offer a message of hope and the assurance of God’s presence with us in the midst of our darkness. These services are known as Blue Christmas or the Longest Night. We are including a Blue Holiday service for non Christians.
There are numerous examples of these services on the internet. We have four sample services on the Home page. The first two are ones that I have used and the third service and the Blue Holiday service were created by Bonnie Kinschner with One Mind Mental Illness Ministry, www.OneMindMentalIllnessMinistry.com.
Holiday Stressors: Mental Health Matters goes to the streets where real folks from the community ask how to deal with personal and sometimes stressful situations that arise during the holiday season. Host Shannon Eliot chats with BJ North, peer support expert, and Alan Stein, Marriage, Family, and Child Therapist, about how contributors can get through their holiday-induced stressors. This show sponsored by:
Peers Envisioning and Engaging for Recovery Services (PEERS) www.peersnet.org
This show can be watched at:
I came across a short article in the November, 2012 issue of Good Housekeeping titled, Healing Hymns. It referenced a study from the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I wrote the lead author, Dr. Jill Hamilton, and received permission to include the entire article, You Need a Song to Bring You Through: The Use of Religious Songs to Manage Stressful Life Events. While the study focuses on the African American community, it includes many excellent references to studies on faith and spirituality done by Dr. Harold Koenig and others.
The study found that religion expressed through song was a coping strategy for participants experiencing stressful life events who described feelings of being comforted, strengthened, able to endure, uplifted, and able to find peace by turning to religious songs. As we plan services for people who may find the holidays a difficult time, it is helpful to remember that familiar hymns can connect us to our faith and provide comfort at any time during the year.
The short review of the article, Healing Hymns: For a Holiday Season Boost, can be viewed at:
The full text of You Need a Song to Bring You Through (published in The Gerontologist, 2012) is available at:
The resource/study guide, Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond, is available in English and Spanish. It is available as a free, downloadable resource on the Mental Health Ministries Home page.
Mental Health Ministries receives no financial support from the church or any other institution. We hope you will consider a year-end tax deductible gift to Mental Health Ministries so that we may continue to create resources to erase the stigma of mental illness in our faith communities. Any size gift is most appreciated and you will receive a letter acknowledging your contribution for your tax records.
We have plans to produce two additional video productions in 2013. One will be on suicide and the other will focus on families living with an adult child who has a mental illness. You can contact Susan if you are interested in sponsoring one of these productions that will be offered at no cost on the Mental Health Ministries website.
You are invited to visit Mental Health Ministries on Facebook. I hope you will “Like” our new site.
Mental Health Ministries in now on Facebook.
The Silver Cross
I wandered the rutted back streets of a small town in Mexico to escape the visually color overload of the rainbow colored storefronts and the intrusive assault of street vendors. As I carefully walked the back roads to avoid the ruts and puddles, I was attracted to a small store with a pink door with peeling pink paint and the distinctive smell of fine leather. The cobbler, Mario, was hunched over his workbench as he mended and put together shoes for his neighbors. A lively conversation in Spanish drew me to the back of the shop where a low partition revealed a white haired man creating silver jewelry. Mario and Carlos stopped their conversation only long enough to acknowledge my presence.
As they went back to their work, I noticed a cardboard box with several silver crosses. I was immediately drawn to a unique cross with cutouts. On closer inspection I saw that the vertical line of the cross contains a Star of David, the Buddhist Wheel of Life and the Islam Crescent Moon and Star. I was moved by this intricate piece of art coming from a predominately Catholic country. Through a series of hand gestures, Carlos and I came to a mutual agreement on the price and I left the small store with my “find.”
I love this cross. But only those persons who get close enough notice the cutouts. This inevitably leads to questions and an ensuing discussion. When we get close enough to a person who we perceive to be “different” in some way we become aware of what unites us as part of the human family. The barriers between “us” and “them” fall away.
May each of us embody the true meaning of this holiday season as we reach out to others in need and open our hearts to ALL of God’s children.
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119