The White House hosted a day-long conference to kick off a national conversation about mental health in the United States on June 3, 2013. President Obama stressed the importance of a more open dialogue on mental health issues. The event included persons who have struggled with mental health, substance-abuse problems, and advocates from education, health care and government agencies at all levels.
“We whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions,” the president said. “The brain is a body part, too. We just know less about it. And there should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love. We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment. We’ve got to get rid of that stigma.”
Representatives from faith groups were at this conference. The Rev. Dr. Jackson Day, consultant for Health Care Advocacy at the General Board of Church & Society, represented the United Methodist agency at the Mental Health Conference. Dr. Day wrote an article about this event along with links to some helpful resources. It is available at http://umc-gbcs.org/faith-in-action/bring-mental-illness-out-of-shadows. Colleagues Rev. Craig Rennebohm, Executive Director of Pathways to Promise, and Rev. Alan Johnson, chair of the UCC Mental Illness Health Network, were also in attendance.
Veterans, especially from Iraq and Afghanistan, received particular attention, emphasized by the presence of Secretary Eric Shinseki of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. The president cited the prevalence of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress among veterans. He said 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Full implementation of health reform through the Affordable Care Act will expand insurance coverage for treatment of mental illnesses for about 60 million Americans.
Videos of remarks made by President Obama and Vice President Biden are available that congregations can use for discussions about mental health issues. A new website, MentalHealth.gov, offers resources and ideas about how to tell the presence of mental-health problems, how to discuss them, and how to obtain help.
Dr. Monica Coleman stands at the intersection of two worlds that don’t have a natural intersection: faith and science. She is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a professor at Claremont School of Theology, and suffers from mental illness. In her 2012 book, Not Alone, she wedded her belief system to her condition, going so far as saying she finds God in her pills. Adam Wahlberg, founder of ThinkPiece Publishing did an interview with Dr. Coleman. She was asked to talk about her faith, her illness, her comforting rituals, and her disgust of the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Monica A. Coleman did the interview about her book. You can read it here.
Not Alone is a 40-day devotional wrestling with some of the tough issues around faith and depression. Weaving together theological reflection, medical research and personal experiences, Not Alone offers readers and opportunity to explore and reflect on their own understandings. Find more information at Coleman’s website:
Book Trailer: http://bit.ly/KE94Wl
The first edition of FaithHealth Magazine published by the Division of Faith and Health Ministries, Wake Forest Baptist Health, has been released. The FaithHealth initiative seeks to forge connections between faith communities and providers to better assist recipients of care. 6.14.13 FaithHealth Magazine Spring 2013-Web.pdf
Rev. Steven Waterhouse is one of the pioneers in educating clergy and congregations about mental illness. He spoke at the NAMI national convention at the NAMI FaithNet networking session. Waterhouse’s book explains mental illness from a Biblical worldview. It may serve as a guide for Christian counselors working with schizophrenia and related problems such as depression, why God allows suffering, mental illness vs. demon possession, and other topics helpful to families of faith.
Mental Health Ministries is pleased to host an excellent annotated resource guide created by Carole Wills, M.A.R. She challenges faith communities to move beyond the silence, ignorance, and prejudice that so often characterize congregational members in their relations with persons who suffer from mental illness. She has developed an extensive and fully annotated list of more than one hundred mental health ministry resources. A shorter list of ten most highly recommended resources for individual, small or large group use is also offered. Both lists include printed and audio-visual resources for faith communities, clergy and lay pastoral caregivers and the general public. In addition, links to mental health-related organizations are provided. A pdf file of the CRG (Congregational Resource Guide) is available on the Mental Health Ministries website at http://www.mentalhealthministries.net/resources/faith_group_resources.html.
Mental illness is the sort of thing we don’t like to talk about. It doesn’t reduce nicely to simple solutions and happy outcomes. So instead, too often we reduce people who are mentally ill to caricatures and ghosts, and simply pretend they don’t exist. They do exist, however—statistics suggest that one in four people suffer from some kind of mental illness. And then there are their friends and family members, who bear their own scars and anxious thoughts, and who see no safe place to talk about the impact of mental illness on their lives and their loved ones. Many of these people are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence.
In Troubled Minds Amy Simpson, whose family knows the trauma and bewilderment of mental illness, reminds us that people with mental illness are our neighbors and our brothers and sisters in Christ, and she shows us the path to loving them well and becoming a church that loves God with whole hearts and whole souls, with the strength we have and with minds that are whole as well as minds that are troubled.
“Naming the Beast” is a powerful article by Rabbi Ilyse Kramer. The Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies is in Baltimore and has been doing excellent work for several decades to educate about mental illness. Rabbi Kramer writes, “It doesn’t matter with which type of mental illness someone suffers. What matters is that it steals so many years away from people who are otherwise wildly creative and vibrantly alive human beings.” http://www.icjs.org/featured-articles/naming-beast-mental-illness
The July 4th newsletter for bp (bipolar) newsletter lifted up a 2009 article that was the first study to use national data to look at the relationship between spirituality, religious worship and suicidal behavior in the general population and people with a history of a mental disorder. A team of psychiatric researchers based at the University of Manitoba has found a possible relationship between a person’s attendance at a religious worship service and his or her desire to commit suicide. Among people with a history of mental illness—those at the highest risk of suicide—religious attendance appears associated with a decrease in suicide attempts. But simply being “spiritual” was not significant enough to reduce the effect. View the article at http://www.bphope.com/Item.aspx?id=555
Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond is a two DVD set to help educate faith communities about various mental health issues. One in four families sitting in our pews has a family member dealing with a mental illness. Yet many are suffering in silence. Through education, we can erase the stigma associated with these "no fault" illnesses and provide congregations with examples of how they can become supportive and caring communities for individuals and families affected by mental illness.
These eight shows cover a variety of mental health issues. Professionals provide important information about each illness. But mostly you will hear from real people who live with these brain disorders. Each segment presents an issue related to the experience of mental illness, puts a face to the issue and offers a message of hope. The shows are short enough to be used in a variety of settings including classes and small groups. Each segment has a discussion guide with background information, questions for discussion and where to find additional resources. For more information go to Mental Illness and Families of Faith.
Stabilizers and Anchors
My husband and I went on a cruise earlier this year. We both love being out on the ocean and the feeling of freedom that comes with leaving behind all the tasks and stresses of daily life. One night we had large swells and winds as a storm passed nearby. While we were a bit off balance at times, I was grateful for the ship’s stabilizers. We could not see the ship stabilizers as they were beneath the waterline. But we trusted that these fins on rotors had the capacity to change their angle to counteract and minimize the rolling of the ship caused by the winds.
The last few months have been difficult. Both my long time psychiatrist and primary care physician retired. I always knew they were there to act as stabilizers when I encountered storms in my life. They were also my anchors at times. They grounded me when I felt like I was drifting on my own.
Change is not easy. Many years ago we visited the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. I remember the quotation on the wall by the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. It said, “Nothing is permanent except change.” But often change is not easy and it causes us to lose our moorings.
With both of my doctors retiring, I am in the process of finding new doctors and other persons who are to step in and help when there is a forecast for a change in the weather. I am thankful for my husband and a couple trusted friends who I know are there for me. But I also realize anew the importance of trusting that, though unseen, I have an ever present God who is always there to stabilize and anchor me when I encounter storms in my life.
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119