Mental Health Ministries

MHM e-Spotlight Holiday 2018

Family Praying at Thanksgiving The holiday season can present challenges. Many celebrations focus on family which can be difficult for people who are isolated or cut off from their relatives. Social events often serve alcohol, which can be tempting or present a barrier to attending for people trying to maintain sobriety. But, this season also offers opportunities to participate in faith traditions and events that reaffirm one’s sense of belonging.

Strong spiritual beliefs and participation in faith communities can enhance connection and coping skills, which increases resiliency. Such communities can offer vital empathetic and social support for those experiencing challenges.  The holidays can also be a time to re-connect with your faith community.

December is a Season of Light for Many Faith Traditions

Christmas decorations are up before Halloween.  Black Friday too often gets more attention than Thanksgiving Day.  The holiday season becomes a season of consumerism instead of a time to give thanks for our many blessings and connect with the traditions of our faith.  But December is a season of light for several world religions.

Advent WreathThe Christmas season of Advent celebrates the humble birth of the baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.  The birth of Jesus Christ is about the coming of God into our lives and into our world.  During the Advent season leading up to Christmas, many Christians light candles each week that represent Hope, Love, Joy and Peace in many churches.  The Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day reminding Christians that Jesus is the light of the world.

HanukkahThe 8-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah is not like Christmas, so far-flung Jewish relatives don’t rush home for these holidays as Christian families migrate for Christmas day. However, the whole point of lighting the Hanukkah candles, each night, is to remember connections stretching back thousands of years. Often, parents and their children enjoy the ritual together to establish this tradition for future generations. 

Bodhi DayBodhi Day is a holiday which falls on December 8th and celebrates the day in which Siddhartha Gautama sat underneath the Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment. This one defining moment would become the central foundation upon which Buddhism has been built for the last 2,500 years. It is a day on which followers can renew their dedication to Buddhism; reaffirm themselves to enlightenment, compassion, and kindness to other living creatures; and also understand the relevance of this religion as it applies to the modern world. Many Buddhists string multicolored lights or burn candles for Bodhi Day.

KwansaaKwansaa is a celebration held in the United States and in other nations of the African diaspora in the Americas and lasts a week. The celebration honors African heritage in African-American culture and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving.

DiwaliDiwali is a Hindu Festival of Lights.  One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.  During the celebration, temples, homes, shops and office buildings are brightly illuminated.  The festival typically lasts five days with the third day coinciding with the darkest night of the Hindu lunisolar month.

Our faith and spirituality remind us that light and hope are with us even in the darkest of times.

The introduction to the Mental Health Ministries shows is a short clip, Coming Out of the Dark.  Based on Gloria Estafan's song, Coming Out of the Dark, it affirms how persons can move from their personal darkness of mental illness into the light of healing and hope.  (watch it on YouTube)

Blue Christmas and Blue Holiday Worship Services

CandlesFaith 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

One resource is a candle-lighting litany for a “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” service written by Bonnie Kinschner. There are samples of Blue Christmas and a Blue Interfaith Holiday Service in the Worship section under Resources on the Mental Health Ministries website.

Brochure – Mental Illness: Coping with the Holidays

Mental Illness: Coping with the Holidays BrochureThe holidays are meant to be a time of meaning.  For Christians, it is a time to consider what the birth of Jesus means to you.  The Jewish holiday of Hanukah celebrates light and hope in the midst of darkness.  The holiday of Kwanzaa offers a time to reflect upon the meaning of ones' African heritage and culture.  For those who identify with no specific religious tradition, we can all be mindful and discover what it means for us to spend time with family and friends and how relationships provide purpose and meaning in our lives.  This Spotlight offers some resources to help all of us make healthy choices on how we want to approach the holiday season.                       

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.  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

Article – A Holiday Thank You to Our Caregivers

Thankful GraphicThe holiday of Thanksgiving encourages us to remember all the things that we are thankful for.  At that special time of year when we think about what we’re grateful for, we can include our appreciation for those who care about us and others.

When giving thanks this season, and throughout the year, it is important to lift up the caregivers who give of themselves every hour of every day for the well-being of others.

HopeMany persons living with serious mental illnesses have persons who love and care for them through the challenging ups and downs of these illnesses. Mary Giliberti from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) heard someone say that caregiving is “love in action. 

But this selfless caregiving takes its toll on caregivers physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually.  45% of caregivers have reported that their physical health has suffered while caring for their loved one and nearly half of unpaid caregivers have had feelings of depression.  This article, A Holiday Thank You to Our Caregivers, gives some helpful tips for caregivers to take care of themselves.  There are many ways that our faith communities can provide relief and support for caregivers.

Book – When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness: A Handbook for Family, Friends and Caregivers

When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness: A Handbook for Family, Friends and CaregiversThis book about love and mental health addresses the short-term, daily problems of living with a person with mental illness, as well as long-term planning and care.  The book addresses many topics including suggestions for handling the stress of the holidays.  Available on Amazon.

Articles – Holiday Depression & Stress and Holiday Stress Tips

Youth Group in the snow.The Behavioral Health Services North has two articles to help cope with holiday stress.  Holiday Depression and Stress addresses the cause of holiday blues, ideas for coping with stress and depression during the holidays and whether the environment can be a factor as with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

The second article, Holiday Stress Tips, offers ideas on how to take care of yourself.

Bulletin Insert – What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder Bulletin InsertSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition that affects people around the world.  Some of us who live with a mental health condition are more sensitive to small time changes like daylight savings time.  Adjusting to time change when traveling can be more difficult especially when crossing many time zones.

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.

Article – Holiday Depression and Stress

From the National Mental Health Association: What Causes Holiday Blues. “Many factors can cause the 'holiday blues': stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial constraints, and the inability to be with one’s family and friends. The demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and house guests also contribute to feelings of tension. People who do not become depressed may develop other stress responses, such as: headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating, and difficulty sleeping. Even more people experience post-holiday let down after January first. This can result from disappointments during the preceding months compounded with the excess fatigue and stress.”

Read the article on the Behavioral Health Services North website.

Article – Holiday Self-Care

This article provides suggestions for faith communities in dealing with the stress of the holidays.  Mary Kay Irving gives suggestions on what caregivers and faith leaders can do to promote self-care and build times of quiet prayer and meditative activities into the hectic holiday season. 

Read the article on the INMI website.

A Different Kind of Holiday Letter After the Loss of a Family Member to Suicide

Connie and Rex share an inspirational Christmas letter about coping with the loss of a loved one to suicide during this holiday season. Connie and Rex 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.”  This show is available on the DVD, PTSD, Trauma and Suicide: Stories of Healing and Hope.  You can view Connie and Rex’s story on You Tube.

Our Holiday Journey
Todd took his life a week before Thanksgiving 2005.  Loss of any kind is traumatic, but a suicide death is surreal and stigmatizing.  Thanksgiving was a blur for us that year.  Time has softened the memories of that first holiday without our son.  Close to a decade later I remember the compassion and care of this new neighborhood of loss:  A deliciously prepared Thanksgiving dinner from a well-known eatery, compliments of friends on the East Coast; calls from around the world; friends manning our phone and contacting family and friends.  They spoke for us in our stunned silence.  Trusted companions appeared daily to feed us, listen to us and remind us to breathe.  They carried our pain and made it their own—the beauty of community.
Then came Christmas, that “Queen of Holidays.” It was wasted on us. December 25 came and went that first year, void of celebration. Those in our inner circle were caring, sensitive and sacrificial. It was almost as if our pain were more important than their pleasure. There is much about that season Rex and I just blocked out because we were disoriented and paralyzed. The less we thought and processed, the safer our world felt.
In reflecting back to the first winter holidays, I see how shock protected us.  Had we felt the full weight of the trauma, it would have taken us out. Shock acted as a numbing agent, temporary but necessary.  When all you can swallow is a teaspoonful of pain, it’s foolish to use a soup ladle.  I treasured those first days of “comfortable denial” because they served as a buffer against the awful truth.

Navigating holidays became an important part of our grief work that first year.  We learned that every holiday left us in harm’s way, even those that we didn’t usually observe.  Todd’s absence made even Columbus Day painful. We discovered that having a plan for special days was essential. The more we “populated holidays with people,” the better we fared.
Five years into our grief journey, Rex and I tried something different. We had been making festive attempts, some that worked and others that flopped.  There was nothing magical about the fifth year; we were just moving toward a healthier level of acceptance.  Todd was gone—we had survived, with the expected bruises.  We had been encouraged by a grief therapist to allow the loss to stretch our souls in regard to compassion for others who suffer great loss.  And what season felt as awful, awkward and loss-sensitive as the Winter Holidays?  Thus began the Annual “Decking the Halls the Night After” Party.

I go to parties; I abhor planning them!  But this seemed purposeful, rewarding and fun.  We made a guest list of friends and acquaintances that had experienced difficult losses of any kind.  It was lengthy!  I wrote up the following rhyme: 

It’s the Night after Christmas—the holiday’s past;
And for those who are grieving, it’s over!  At last!
We MADE it!  Survived it!—this difficult season,
No “decking the halls”, there wasn’t much reason.
But we’re celebrating the friends on the block,
This new neighborhood that was formed in the dark.
So the party’s not finished, and may I be candid?
Tonight is for those we KNOW understand it!


Guests dropped in throughout the evening, bringing finger food and hearts that needed support from folks that got it.  There was music, laughter, conversation, tears and tissues.  One year we had a survivor entertain us with a piano solo! This festive event became a new normal for some mourners, a time during a complex season when they could be transparent and painfully genuine. 

The party became the highlight of our grief work in memory of our son Todd who caroled on his kazoo in his flip-flops on Christmas Eve.  There is always something to celebrate.  Always.

Training Guide – Helping People with Mental Health Conditions Prepare for Disasters

Helping People with Mental Health Conditions Prepare for DisastersIt seems like we have had many more natural disasters this year and our hearts go out to the victims and those who come together to help…including our faith leaders and congregations.  Individuals with mental health conditions are as likely to be caught up in natural or man-made disasters as anyone else. Natural disaster like earthquakes, fires or hurricanes and man-made events like senseless shootings or riots often have terrible practical and emotional impacts, which can be minimized if people are better prepared: if they have thought ahead about what they can do, what they will need, and how they can respond if they are unlucky enough to face a disaster. This document is designed to increase the degree to which individuals with mental health conditions have planned to meet their needs if a disaster should strike. It also suggests that peer specialists can play an important role in helping the people they serve be better prepared.

View the training guide on the Temple University Collaborative website.

Book – Hospitable Witnessing

Hospitable Witnessing Drawing on her own experience of befriending a person suffering from a long-term mental health challenge, Priscilla Oh reflects on the meaning of care and friendship theologically. “Hospitable Witnessing is an unusual and necessary book which investigates the author’s experience of caring for her mentally ill friend. Readers will find themselves deeply engaged in the psychological pain and confusion of both the author and her friend. This honest and compassionate book will be of great value to families, church members, and professionals engaged in the care and treatment of mentally ill people.”  (Endorsement from Mary Fawcett). 

Book is available at Wipf and Stock.

A Pastoral Response to Mental Illness from the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD)

A Pastoral Response to Mental IllnessThe Pastoral Response to Mental Illness is the newest resource available from the NCPD Council on Mental Illness.  Click here for your free download. To order copies of this booklet (single or in bulk), please contact NCPD at or (202) 529-2933. It has recently been translated into Spanish. A free Spanish download will be available soon.

Article – How Music Helps with Mental Health

How Music Helps with Mental Health.Psalms 63:7: “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.”

Psalms 59:16: “I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.”

Author Will Tottle has written a comprehensive resource on “How Music Helps with Mental Health – Mind Boosting Benefits of Music Therapy.”  Tottle writes,Music has been with us for thousands of years as a form of entertainment, communication, celebration, and mourning. There are so many different emotions that music can help us to express, and it is a language that we share universally, as well as one that everyone can understand.  Music has a way of helping us express emotions that we don’t even understand ourselves, and can put these feelings into meaningful lyrics, or just a tune that resonates with every fiber of our being.”  Tuttle offers research and evidence on ways that music can be beneficial for every mental health condition.  Music is especially important during the holiday season as we hear the familiar music that has endured over the years…music that brings us “home” to ourselves and helps to ground us in the larger community. 

Article available at the My Audio Sound website.

Support MHM

In this season of gift giving we hope you will consider supporting the work of Mental Health Ministries.  Mental Health Ministries is part of the Disability Committee of the United Methodist Church but receives no financial support from the church.  We hope you will consider a tax deductible gift to Mental Health Ministries so that we may continue to create resources to erase the stigma of mental illness in our faith communities. Any size gift is most appreciated, and you will receive a letter acknowledging your contribution for your tax records.

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Snippets from Susan

Won't You Be My Neighbor?
I’m not good at long plane rides!  On a recent cross-country trip, I reviewed the limited movies offered and watched some spy movie.  I still had three and half more hours!  So, I started watching the movie about Mr. Rogers while working on something else.

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood ShowMy kids watched Mr. Rogers so I could cook dinner after work.  Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister whose calling was to create a “holy space” for the TV studio and the children watching on the other side.  His belief was that everyone has inherent value.  His show was one of acceptance and inclusion.

He believed the most important thing about communication is listening…and often silence.  He listened with compassion to the child whose stuffed dog lost its ear in the wash.  He listened to the young boy with a spinal halo and confined to a wheelchair.  He listened to the child who was angry when the kids at school were mean to him because he was different.

Mr. Rogers cools his feet with Officer ClemmonsFred Rogers dealt with difficult topics and modeled acceptance and inclusion when the world did not.  The simple gesture of taking off his shoes to cool off his feet along with one of the African American cast members was his way of addressing the conflict about white people excluding black people from public swimming pools.  He talked honestly about things like death and war in a way that still made children feel safe and loved.

Fred Rogers sang, “It’s you I like, every part of you.” What is essential to life is invisible to the eye.  This is the invisible gift of love.

There is so much division, distrust and fear in our country and even in our families today.  During this holiday season (and all through the year) we can learn a lot from Mr. Rogers.  We can remember the importance of respecting, accepting and listening to one another even if we disagree.  We are all loved as precious child of God just as we are.

There is no price on the most important gift we can give each other this holiday season and throughout the year…the invisible gift of love.



Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119