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.
We have recently updated our signature brochure, Mental Illness and Families of Faith: Creating Caring Congregations. Mental Health Ministries is an interfaith web-based ministry to provide educational resources to help erase the stigma of mental illness in our faith communities. Our mission is to help faith communities be caring congregations for people living with a mental illness and those who love and care for them based on the “Caring Congregations” five step model. The five steps of education, commitment, welcome, support and advocacy. Examples of what congregations can do are included under each step. There are also links to other groups as well as information on accessing the print and media resources on the Mental Health Ministries website. It is available for download in English and Spanish.
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 a world that seems to be full of problems. The brochure, Mental Illness: Coping with the Holidays, provides helpful self care tips for persons living with a mental illness, tips for families, 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. There are a number of sites on the internet that provide worship resources suitable for use at a “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” worship services. One example is the Blue Christmas Worship Resource Index.
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.
Parents raising children with social, emotional or behavioral challenges can become overwhelmed as they seek treatment for their child and simultaneously cope with their own grief, worry, and fatigue. Drawing from experience with her own daughters, Dr. Karen Crum, a parent-professional, wrote Persevering Parent to bring hope and strength to parents raising children with neurobiological conditions such as autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and more. This book relieves the cognitive, emotional and spiritual struggles of caregivers with compassion, practical advice and biblical wisdom. Desperate and wounded parents are led to replace worry, guilt, and social isolation with faith, joy and purpose.
Persevering Parent can be read by individuals or used as a study guide for support groups comfortable with a Christian perspective. It was designed primarily for caregivers of toddlers through young adults, but parents of older children will also benefit. This book includes reflection and discussion questions within each chapter and a suggested format for ten or more weeks of group interaction and support.
When the book is ordered via the link on www.PerseveringParent.com, the author donates a portion of proceeds to respite care for families raising children with mental illness. It is also available on Amazon.
Dr. Karen Crum, author of Persevering Parent and Persevering Parent Ministries, www.perseveringparent.com, has written an article to help families cope with the stresses of the holidays when dealing with a child with special needs. Some of the suggestions she discusses in the article include:
Dr. Crum’s article is available on the Mental Health Ministries website in the Articles section.
So often it’s hard to know how to help friends who are having mental health problems. Marja Bergen’s book, Reflections for our Highs and Lows, richly illustrated with color photographs, makes an ideal gift. The twenty-eight devotionals were specifically written for those who are struggling. Marja brings an understanding to her writing that comes from having lived with bipolar disorder since 1965. Her passion is to comfort, encourage, and inspire as she shares Scripture passages and her reflections on them. It is available on Marja Bergen’s website.
In this small yet immensely helpful guide, pastor Thomas Lewis offers spiritual resources for the many persons today suffering from depression. By turning his readers toward praying the Psalms, as he did in his own battle with depression, Lewis assists those seeking hope and a healing touch to find, in his words, "a cup of cold water in parched land." He speaks frankly about his own battle with deep depression; discusses the types of depression, the symptoms, and where to get help; and then lays out several Psalms of lament that can support people in times of depression and form a foundation for all other approaches to treating the illness. This book will prove to be a valuable resource for those engaged in pastoral care and counseling, for those who have loved ones suffering from depression, and persons suffering from depression themselves. Available on Amazon.
Rabbi Sonya Starr has put together a resource, Jewish Prayers for Strength and Healing. In addition to the prayers, Rabbi Starr notes that Sukkott was supposed to be the happiest holiday of the year. The rabbis acknowledged that everyone might not be happy and that was acceptable. The book of Ecclesiastes was used to validate the many different emotions that we deal with during the holidays and other times of sadness and distress. Available in the MHM Worship Resources section.
In Blessed Are the Crazy, Sarah Griffith Lund, a United Church of Christ minister, looks back at her father’s battle with bipolar disorder, and the helpless sense of déjà vu as her brother and cousin endure mental illness as well. With a small group study guide and “Ten Steps for Developing a Mental Health Ministry in Your Congregati on,” Blessed Are the Crazy is more than a memoir—it’s a resource for churches and other faith-based groups to provide healing and comfort. It is available for purchase on Amazon.
We encourage you to “Like” us on our Facebook page to get timely updates on resources, articles, and ideas of what other people are doing. We also encourage your comments and contributions.
The Potlatch Feast
My husband and I visited Vancouver before an Alaskan cruise. We learned much about the culture of the First Nation peoples through their art. Serving food to large gatherings of people was central to many ceremonial gatherings for the Tlingit, Haida and other groups that live in the northwest. These feasts could last for days and guests could number in the hundreds. The ceremonies surrounding the Potlatch reinforced the social structure of the community through storytelling, dancing, totem pole raising, feasting, gift giving and teaching the young to preserve the identity of a particular clan or family. A Potlatch could take years to prepare and include people who traveled great distances.
Favorite family recipes were served in “house dishes” that could hold immense quantities of food. Canoes and large serving dishes were carved with the names and histories of the clan. These serving vessels are translated as “feasting on the floor of the house.” The placement of these dishes and the manner in which the chiefs were served from its various parts would reflect the rank of each tribe. There were images of whales, sea lions, wolfs, ravens, crows and other supernatural beings. These containers for food were among the most valued possessions passed on through marriage and inheritance.
Gathering together as family and friends for a shared meal is central to every culture. Our own Thanksgiving traditions are founded in the relationships nurtured between the Native Americans and the colonists who came to this new land. As we prepare for Thanksgiving and the many other “feasts” during this holiday season, may we take time to really listen to each other’s stories, hopes and dreams. May we recognize our connectedness to those gathered around our tables and to all of humanity.
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119