Our country continues to come together as we all work to move forward and heal from many tragic and traumatic events. The senseless shootings in Connecticut, Colorado and Arizona, the bombings in Boston, letters to government officials laced with ricin, have affected us all. While we can’t always know the motivations for these tragic and senseless acts, we do know that these events significantly impact families, communities and our nation. These events can trigger feelings of anxiety and fear for many of us not directly involved, especially with the media coverage that bombards us with images 24 hours a day. Mental Health America has developed guidelines to help Americans respond and cope with tragic events. These can be found at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/information/coping-with-disater
It has been heartwarming to see how communities have come together to support and help each other. It has been inspiring to see first responders and ordinary citizens rush in to help total strangers, open their homes, provide food and help comfort the frightened victims. Faith leaders have offered the ministry of presence and congregations have opened their doors as places of healing and hope. Memorial services with leaders of all faith traditions have offered prayers and solace.
The United Methodist General Board of Discipleship has created a list of resources to help those affected cope with the bombings. Resources include articles on how to deal with trauma (including how to talk with children about the events in Boston), hymns and songs in response to terrorism, music for an offertory prayer song and appropriate calls to worship. You can find the resources by clicking here.
The tragic events dominating the news show us that we need to reassure children that they are safe even when we may not feel safe ourselves. Shock, fear, anxiety, anger, and confusion are normal, so the adults in the lives of our children need to be equipped to respond and act. The General Board of Discipleship has a link, Talking to Children After Traumatic Events... And Listening.
Mental Health Ministries has a downloadable brochure to help address the psychological effects of trauma and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Transforming Psychological Trauma: How Faith Communities Can Promote Healing helps congregations recognize symptoms and provide support to person dealing with psychological trauma from interpersonal events and other traumatic events. It can be used along with our online video clip, Out of the Ashes: Transforming Trauma, as a way to begin a discussion about how faith communities can support those who have experienced trauma.
The Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC), a program of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), has released Grounded in Faith: Resources on Mental Health and Gun Violence; available online by clicking here. This is a resource for congregational leaders, disability advocates, and other concerned persons who wish to ensure that the on-going debate around gun violence prevention does not stigmatize people with mental illnesses, and deprive them of their rights and freedoms.
This document cites numerous studies on mental illness and violence that show "the contribution to violence made by persons with mental illness in no larger than the contributions made by persons who do not have a mental illness." Other demographic and socioeconomic factors contribute much more than mental illness. The consensus of experts is that most violence is not committed by people who have a mental illness and that most people with a mental illness are not violent. People with mental illnesses and other disabilities are much more likely to be the victims of violence that the perpetrators. An important issue for serious discussion regarding mental illness is not homicide. It is suicide with suicides accounting for 61% of all firearm fatalities in the U.S.
Faith communities can initiate conversations about mental illness and support advocacy to protect the rights and dignity of people with mental illness and other disabilities. We can work to ensure that the on-going debate around gun violence does not stigmatize people with mental illnesses.
We were all saddened by the news of the suicide of Matthew Warren, son of Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best seller, The Purpose Driven Life, and we lift prayers for the Warren family in this time of great loss. Matthew’s suicide has led to a national conversations about how our beliefs can prevent people from getting the help they need because of the stigma and shame associated with mental illness.
The Washington Post had an article, "Suicide of Star Pastor Rick Warren’s Son Sparks Debate about Mental Illness." For example, is depression the result of sinful behavior for which one should seek forgiveness? Well-known evangelical figures called for an end to the shame and secrecy that still surrounds mental illness throughout U.S. society and a greater embrace of medical treatment, particularly among evangelicals.
The topic of mental illness and church silence has gained steam lately because of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, were among the major leaders previously scheduled to attend a meeting in a few weeks to help form a clearer Christian approach to mental health.
Another participant is Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page, whose daughter Melissa killed herself in 2009 at the age of 32. Page said that the problem of stigma is a societal one but that "most churches aren’t stepping up to the plate to talk about the elephant in the room." He said the "niceties in Christian society" are a roadblock, but theology can appear to be one too. While this dialogue among our faith communities is important and welcome, we must continue to keep all families affected by mental illness and suicide in our thoughts and prayers. Read more at http://www.aapd.com/assets/grounded-in-faith.pdf.
CNN had a blog written by Ed Stetzer in response to the death of Matthew Warren that lifts up four things the churches (and other communities of faith) should be doing including:
The United Methodist General Boards of Church & Society (GBCS) and Global Ministries (GBGM) have created a new resource for local congregations. This bulletin insert shares the background of the Caring Congregations five step model used by Mental Health Ministries. The bulletin insert, "Faith & Mental Health — Creating Caring & Sharing Communities" is available free as a download at by clicking here.
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.
There are also a number of DVDs available for use in a class or small group. Each video resource includes a study guide. Short clips from most shows can be viewed on You Tube by clicking on the video links. Eight shows are available on the two DVD set, Mental Illness and Families of Faith.
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.
Life suddenly changes in times of tragedy and loss. Our values and perspectives change. People become more precious. Many of us turn to our faith as we pray for the victims and reflect on our own lives and how we spend our time here on earth. It is an opportunity to view every moment as a gift to be treasured.
I was very moved by the interfaith service after the bombings in Boston. Among the more than 2,000 people who attended Thursday's interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the city's South End were people injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, the doctors and nurses who treated them and fellow runners determined to show their solidarity. The faith leaders from many faith traditions offered an inspirational message of hope. In his speech, President Obama acknowledged the devastation that had befallen the victims and their families but assured the congregations that the city, "will run again."
One of my favorite scripture readings comes from Isaiah 40: 28-31. Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they mount up with the wings of eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
May it be so.
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119