Yes, it is that time of year when we take stock of where we have been and look forward to what is to come in the New Year. We are living in uncertain and challenging times in our personal lives, in our nation and in our world. George Iles wrote, “Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” To this end, Mental Health Ministries will continue to live out our mission to help faith communities find ways to bring hope and light to persons living in darkness.
There were over 80 natural disasters declared last year. Many of us watched the heartbreaking stories of persons who lost their home and belongings in snow storms, tornadoes, fires and record flooding. With FEMA and other government agencies facing dwindling funds, we have seen how faith communities have reached out to help. We have seen how people have worked together to bring hope for a better future. And we appreciate once again the sacred value of each person over physical “things.”
Mental Health Ministries has addressed many mental health issues through high quality media productions. Our shows present an issue, put a face to that issue and offer a message of hope. Our Advisory Committee is committed to working with some of the production professionals we have used in the past to create some new shows on timely issues. These shows will be highlighted on the Mental Health Ministries website and will be available on You Tube.
The first video we have produced is about coping with the trauma of disaster. It is very personal because the person interviewed in this show, Dr. Kathleen Durning, is the chair of the Mental Health Ministries Advisory Committee. Not only did Kathleen and her husband Val lose their home in one of the San Diego firestorms, but four of their neighbors lost their lives in their neighborhood.
We were all vulnerable as the unpredictable winds devastated our communities and forced a million persons to evacuate. Many of my clergy colleagues were part of this evacuation. But in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, persons from all faith traditions opened their doors to evacuees, gathered food and other necessities for the evacuation centers, provided food and drink to weary fire fighters, acted as translators and mobilized hundreds of volunteers. Many of these volunteers also had homes in danger. Parishioners with medical training helped persons evacuate from nursing or convalescent hospitals. With the closure of our schools, teachers came to our city’s stadium to help support the children. Others came to offer a listening ear and the ministry of presence.
God was very present in the midst of the fire storms. For a time, differences were set aside. We were united in the realization of our interconnectedness. Our faith communities are in a unique position to continue to extend hospitality and counseling in the weeks and months following a disaster. I helped to put together a service of remembrance for the persons who lost their lives that were attended by friends and choir members from our church. There is a short part of that service in the video where we planted four trees in honor of the four persons who lost their lives.
Click here to view the video, Out of the Ashes: Transforming Trauma.
To go along with our commitment to addressing the psychological effects of trauma and post traumatic stress disorder, we have a new brochure, Transforming Psychological Trauma: How Faith Communities Can Promote Healing. This brochure helps congregations recognize symptoms and provide support to person dealing with psychological trauma from interpersonal events and other traumatic events like natural disasters and the violence of war. It can be used along with our new video clip as a way to begin a discussion about how faith communities can support those who have experienced many kinds of trauma.
Whether or not faith and prayer can aid in healing has been a topic of debate in the medical community for decades. It may seem strange to devote so much time to looking for the connection between faith and medicine, but there are plenty who devote their time, talents and intellect to answering such questions. This blog entry includes references to 25 intriguing scientific studies about faith, prayer and healing:
I was one of the persons interviewed by Charles Honey of the Grand Rapids Press. Honey cites studies that have found that spirituality helps many struggling with mental illness. MLive, an online collective of Michigan newspapers, recently featured a compelling article on faith as a powerful partner in mental health care. This article explores the view many churches have of treatment, the view many in the treatment field have of religion and the ultimate benefit of both to people who live with mental illness.
An article on the healing power of faith, including the stories of persons from many faith traditions, is available in the fall, 2011 issue of bp Magazine. Have a Little Faith by Robin L. Flanigan shares how people find the comfort, guidance, and an answer to the “Why me?” questions in religious belief. The purpose of bp Magazine is to provide hope and harmony for people with bipolar.
A study by Rush University Medical Center suggests patients diagnosed with clinical depression have better outcomes to medical treatment if they have belief in a concerned God. The investigation expands earlier research that found a religious belief can help protect against symptoms of depression.
In Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families, psychiatrists and pastoral theologians come together in an interdisciplinary, collaborative effort to ensure accuracy of information concerning the medical dimensions of mental illness, interpret these illnesses from a faith perspective, and make suggestions relative to effective ministry. Readers will learn how science and a faith tradition can not only co-exist but work in tandem to alleviate the pain of the afflicted and affected.
For more information on this resource, visit the Augsburg Fortress store at: http://store.augsburgfortress.org/store/product/16987/Ministry-with-Persons-with-Mental-Illness-and-Their-Families
Bridges of Hope is a new resource designed by NAMI FaithNet Advisory Committee members to give NAMI members a user friendly, scripted power point presentation to use when speaking to faith communities. The Reaching Out to Faith Communities training tool was previewed at the NAMI national convention in Chicago this past summer. The Reaching Out resource is designed to give background information and useful tools in preparations for reaching out to faith communities. Once persons have the information, tools and confidence, they can use Bridges of Hope to educate and empower faith communities on the importance of talking about mental illness to create caring congregations for persons living with a mental illness and their families.
Three topics are addressed including: What is mental illness and what is its impact?; What role can faith communities play in supporting and caring for people with mental illness?; and Who is NAMI and what does it offer faith communities? Length of the presentation depends on the speaker’s pace and amount of discussion encouraged. It can be used in its entirety or in sections, depending on the audience’s familiarity with the subject matter and time allotment. Both Reaching Out to Faith Communities and Bridges of Hope are available to be downloaded from the NAMI FaithNet micro-site at www.nami.org/namifaithnet.
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.
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.
Response and Recovery
My husband and I had a wonderful time away in Hawaii last year. While the weather was mostly cooperative during our visit, we learned much about how the Hawaiian Islands continue to evolve and change because of many natural events. On the Big Island we saw how the Kona coast is still struggling to rebuild when a tsunami hit after the Japanese earthquake. We visited the Volcano National Park and saw the steam coming out of one of the major craters and wondered if it would “blow” while we were standing on the observations deck. We walked on lava fields and were fascinated to see how molten lava from many different eruptions had cooled in ways that create artful landscapes. In the midst of the “rope” patterns of lava, I was moved by the small green plants beginning to take root.
We also visited the island of Kauai and saw how the devastating hurricanes in 1982 and 1992 radically altered the natural landscape. Yet in the midst of these traumatic events, the forest plants and animals not only survived these dramatic events, but they changed and evolved in some amazing and beautiful ways. The islands immediately embarked on recovery. Birds foraged new sources of foods while trees and plants bloomed out of season. Water from the falls found different paths that brought new life to other parts of the island.
Many of us have witnessed the unexpected raging storms, especially those of us living with a mental illness, that have changed our lives forever. I get comfort from the words found in Psalm 57:1, “In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge until the destroying storms pass by.” As we begin this New Year, my prayer is that we commit ourselves to be present to and be in relationship with persons experiencing “destroying storms” until they can move into the light, find hope and discover the new possibilities God continues to offer to each of us.
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119