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.
The 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 even 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. Symptoms can include:
During the darkest nights of the winter, many faith traditions celebrate religious holidays that focus on light. 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.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who lived in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.
~ Isaiah 9:2
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.
Mental illness of a family member destroys the family's connection with the religious community, a new study by Baylor University psychologists has found, leading many affected families to leave the church and their faith behind.
The study shows that while families with a member who has mental illness have less involvement in faith practices, they would like their congregation to provide assistance with those issues. However, the rest of the church community seemed to overlook their need entirely. In fact, the study found that while help from the church with depression and mental illness was the second priority of families with mental illness, it ranked 42nd on the list of requests from families that did not have a family member with mental illness.
The last piece of legislation President John F. Kennedy signed turned 50 in October: the Community Mental Health Act, which helped transform the way people with mental illness are treated and cared for in the United States. “The goals of deinstitutionalization were perverted. People who did need institutional care got thrown out, and there weren’t the programs in place to keep them supported,” said former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the president’s nephew. “We don’t have an alternate policy to address the needs of the severely mentally ill.” He gathered advocates in Boston in October for the Kennedy Forum, a meeting to mark the 50th anniversary of his uncle’s legislation and an attempt to come up with an agenda for improving mental health care.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke saying that the country is on the cusp of what he called "remarkable changes" in the treatment of mental illness. He said science is on the verge of "astounding discoveries" that could change how society cares for those with mental illness.
The documentary, Voices From Within, explores the complicated process of recovery and redemption through the experiences of four individuals in care at Saint Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital. Found not guilty by reason of insanity, four persons share what it is like to have spent a collective 160 years in one of the nation’s oldest mental institutions. By putting cameras directly into their hands, the filmmakers helped them share their lives and their ongoing struggle to leave the hospital and transition back into the community.
Catholic University Professor of Social Sciences, Melissa Grady, says: “This is a film that will provide community members as well as those who work with individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system a unique glimpse into some of the individuals and systemic challenges such individuals face as they come to terms with their past and simultaneously see to plan for a different future.”
For more information and to view a trailer, go to www.voices-from-within.com
INMI is a nationwide non-profit organization based in Boulder, Colorado. It is an interfaith organization and affirms that spirituality is an important component of recovery from mental illness. INMI offers resources and support to clergy (pastors, ministers, priests, rabbis, imams, etc.), staff, lay leaders and members of faith communities. In the Boulder/Broomfield, Colo. area, INMI offers live conferences, workshops and other events. Learn more about INMI.
Holding On and Letting Go
The holiday season is when retail and online stores make the most money. One sign of change is that there are less paper catalogues and fewer people are subscribing to newspapers with all those ads. Black Friday and Cyber Monday bombard us with more enticing offers. But as I was flipping through one brightly-colored catalogue, filled with things I never knew existed and things I certainly didn’t need, I thought about what things I do need and desire.
After putting it off for many years, we got new carpet in our house. It forced us to sort through a lot of our “stuff.” There were more trips to Goodwill than I can count…and lots of Ibuprofen! Places to put things were at a premium and we even filled our bathtub to the ceiling with boxes! I’ve decided moving is easier than packing and moving boxes from one room to another during the installation. Then there was the task of putting things back and discovering even more things we no longer need.
When the new carpets were finally done, my husband and I both felt wonderful! It was so liberating to let go of things we no longer needed. It was a spiritual experience to decide what possessions brought memories and enhanced our lives. This unburdening allowed us to reevaluate what was important in our lives.
The things we really need and want are not found in catalogues, the internet or stores. What we all need is connection and community. No amount of money can buy the special times spent with family and friends...the caring and loving and laughing and even the crying together, are what makes life truly worth living. The real secret of the holidays is that the love and joy of the season is about the love and joy we can choose to share with one another.
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119