Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, and Yule are all holidays this time of year when families come together to celebrate and reminisce. We know that the holiday season can magnify the stresses of everyday life for most of us but especially for 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 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.
Connie and Rex share an inspirational article published in the Winter 2014 issue of the Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL) San Diego about coping with the loss of a loved one to suicide during this holiday season.
Connie and Rex also tell their story about the loss of their son, Todd, to suicide in a video produced by Mental Health Ministries, “Suicide: Healing After the Death of a Loved One.” The video is available on the Mental Health Ministries website.
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:
• Sleep Problems – Desire to oversleep, disturbed sleep or difficulty staying awake
• Lethargy – A feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routines
• Overeating – Craving sugary or starchy foods
• Social Problems – Irritability and desire to avoid social situations
• Anxiety – Tension and inability to tolerate stress
• Loss of Libido – Decreased interest in sex or physical contact
• Mood Changes – Extremes in mood and/or short periods of hypomania
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 feeling merry this time of year. 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.
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. There are samples of Blue Christmas and a Blue Interfaith Holiday Service in the Worship section under Resources on the Mental Health Ministries website.
The Christian Reformed Church has a site that includes personal stories, poems, and visual art can communicate grace and truth about mental illness. Walk a few steps in other peoples' shoes through their stories. Visit the site.
For more resources on ministry to people with mental illnesses, see the Christian Reformed Church’s Faith and Hope website.
Let’s Talk! Breaking the Silence around Mental Illness in Our Communities of Faith is a 4-part series for small groups produced by Disability Concerns and Faith and Hope Ministries. This series was written so that anyone who has skill in facilitating a small group discussion can lead it. An extensive Leader Guide helps those leading by giving important background information. The Let’s Talk study guide and the Let’s Talk Leader’s Guide are available for download in the Resource Guides section on the Mental Health Ministries website.
bp magazine’s Hope & Harmony Headlines shares an article on Worship and Wellness in the October, 2015 newsletter. Belief in a higher power and worshipping in community can be strong elements in recovery, no matter what your faith tradition.In fact, a study of five large Jewish communities published earlier this year confirms what research on Christians has shown for many years. "People witha strong sense of religious identity and who participate in their faith seem to do better, on average, than people without an active spiritual life," noted study author Jeff Levin, PhD, MPH. Levin found that Jewish adults who attend synagogue regularly reported better health than either secular Jews or those who did not go to services. The question of personal spiritual practice is more complicated, but overall there’s a strong association between devotion (of any persuasion) and resilience. Article available here.
The article, “Have a Little Faith”, shows how belief in a beneficent higher power has been linked to better coping skills, lower rates of anxiety and depression, and greater longevity. Persons from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist traditions share how their faith has been a source of strength and hope. To view this article, click here.
“People are attracted to religion because it provides believers the opportunity to satisfy all their basic desires over and over again. You can’t boil religion down to one essence.” That’s the conclusion of Steven Reiss, PhD, a professor emeritus of psychology at Ohio State University. His research into human motivation has identified 16 basic desires: acceptance, curiosity, eating, family, honor, idealism, independence, order, physical activity, and power, romance, saving, social contact, status, tranquility and vengeance.
Religious rituals fulfill the desire for order. Teachings about salvation and forgiveness tap into the need for acceptance, while promises of an afterlife may offer a sense of tranquility. Atheists, meanwhile, find alternatives in secular society to fulfill the basic desires. The different weight each of us gives to those desires influences our decision-making and behavior. In his newly released book, The 16 Strivings for God, Reiss looks at the interplay of personal priorities and religion. Available on Amazon.
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Hope is one of the many themes of the holiday season for all faith traditions. The message is that it is possible to bring light and hope in a world of darkness, oppression and despair. But often we don’t “feel” hopeful especially when we hear the message of holiday “joy” all around us.
A number of people have written that hope can be a choice…albeit a difficult one. When we feel overwhelmed by circumstances and expectations, it is a challenge to “choose” hope when feeling hopeless. Yet it is our faith traditions that remind us that hope is real and that the future will be better than the present. We can choose to believe in that future with the assurance we are loved and accepted by a loving God just as we are.
Just as we can make the decision to choose hope, hope often chooses us. Hope often chooses me when I give the gift of hope to others who are also having a difficult time. There are many opportunities for service to others especially during this season. In the process of helping others, I’ve discovered that I am more open to those unexpected encounters with the divine.
Thanksgiving Day invites us to find those things that we are grateful for. Expressing gratitude is another way to focus on the positive and especially to give thanks to those persons who have touched our lives in some special way. Choosing to focus on the many blessings in our lives is a year-long way of living.
During this holiday season, I invite you to be open to the sacred breaking into your ordinary of daily living…and choose hope!
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119