Spring is a time of renewal and hope. Spring provides a bridge from the barren darkness of winter to the bright warmth of summer. We are called back to nature as the warmer weather awakens the plants and trees, brings forth hibernating land animals and offers a homecoming to hundreds of migrating bird species. Bern Williams offers this reflection on hope and spring. "The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created spring."
May is Mental Health Month. Mental Health Month was created over 50 years ago to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of mental wellness for all by Mental Health America. There are now designated times in May for groups to raise awareness and advocate for improvements in research, prevention and treatment on specific mental health issues.
While May is designated as Mental Health Month, educating about mental health issues is important any time of the year.
Mental Illness Awareness Month in May and Mental Illness Awareness Week (first week in October) are appropriate times to plan a Mental Health Sunday. But congregations are encouraged to focus a Sunday to provide education and support for members around mental health challenges any time that fits their schedule.
The United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (www.mhn-ucc.org) has excellent resources to help you plan a Mental Health Sunday. They have a collection of worship resources in the Resource Guide for Mental Health Sunday. Worship resources include sermon ideas as well as complete sermons, a litany, unison prayers and more. Resources for a Mental Health Sunday are available at http://mhn-ucc.blogspot.com/p/mental-health-sunday.html
They also have Congregational Toolkits for teaching your congregation about mental illnesses. Congregational Toolkits include:
One of these toolkits, Mental Health Ministry with Children and Families, recognizes that
children who are dealing with a mental health challenge need specific support, as do their families. This toolkit offers:
It is available at http://mhn-ucc.blogspot.com/p/ucc-mental-health-network_13.html
The language we use to talk about mental health is especially important. It can have powerful consequences. While some may intentionally use unkind labels to describe individuals with mental health conditions, most people are just unaware that their language choices are harmful. To promote better understanding of appropriate language for mental health and to combat discrimination against individuals living with these challenges, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) has created ten principles of compassionate language. Whether you are a peer, family member, co-worker, clinician, or member of the media, we encourage you to adopt them. The guide focuses on these concepts:
This guide is available at http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=dbsa_language and as a PDF file on the Mental Health Ministries website under Articles.
In gripping fashion, Monica Coleman examines the ways that the legacies of slavery, war, sharecropping, poverty, and alcoholism mask a family history of mental illness. Those same forces accompanied her into the black religious traditions and Christian ministry. All the while, she wrestled with her own bipolar disorder. Bipolar Faith is both a spiritual autobiography and a memoir of mental illness. In this powerful book, Coleman shares her life-long dance with trauma, depression, and the threat of death. Citing serendipitous encounters with black intellectuals like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Angela Davis, and Renita Weems, Coleman offers a rare account of how the modulated highs of bipolar II can lead to professional success, while hiding a depression that even her doctors rarely believed. Only as she was able to face her illness was she able to live faithfully with bipolar.
Monica A. Coleman teaches theology and African American religions at Claremont School of Theology, where she also codirects the Center for Process Studies. Her writings cover womanist theology, sexual abuse, and the African American experience. She is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Available on Amazon.
Jess Lader shares some important lessons that she learned from Carrie Fisher about living with a mental health condition. They include:
Breaking the Taboo: The Church and Mental Illness, written by Tricia Brown, can be found in January/February issue of the Interpreter magazine published by the United Methodist Church. It offers ideas on the importance of educating yourself and your congregation and ways to offer encouragement. The article references the Caring Congregations model offered by Mental Health Ministries.
“In years past, people with mental illness were ostracized, alienated and even abused. Today, most people agree that mental illness is better understood and better treated. However, some of the contempt and cruelty of the past has been replaced with silence and indifference. The church can step up and make a difference, moving beyond the taboo and reaching out to people who suffer from mental illness.” http://www.interpretermagazine.org/topics/breaking-the-taboo-the-church-and-mental-illness
The co-founder of Saddleback Church in California talks about her son’s death by suicide, her faith as an anchor, and her passionate belief in hope. The evangelical “mega-church” has been influential in urging faith communities to challenge stigma and normalize brain-based disorders like depression. It’s a mission informed by their own family’s struggles and sorrow. This article is available from the winter issue of Esperanza-Hope to Cope.
Kay was asked, How does the conversation start? “It could be as simple as the pastor or priest or rabbi mentioning mental illness during worship. It can be as simple as, “God, we pray today for the people who are living with depression and struggle to find hope.” It could be courageous people in the congregation who are willing to stand up and tell their stories.”
In the Esperanza article Kay was asked, Saddleback offers a Hope for Mental Health Ministry Starter Kit. What is involved in mental health ministry?
“It starts with a deliberate decision by a congregation that we’re going to talk about this, we’re going to make our faith community a safe place for people to bring their whole self—body, mind and spirit. To recognize that something can go wrong in any one of those moves us away from the idea that mental illness is a character flaw or that someone isn’t trying hard enough or there’s something bad about them.”
The Hope for Mental Health Starter Kit includes:
The entire kit is available for $79 and can be purchased individually: Hope for Mental Health Starter Kit
The Mental Health Resource Guide for Individuals and Families is provided free of charge as a courtesy to those seeking insight and information on mental health. It is designed to serve as a simplified reference guide and should not be utilized as a diagnostic tool. It can be downloaded here and is available on the Mental Health Ministries website under Resource Guides.
The NAMI National Convention connects and inspires people with or affected by a mental illness that are looking for resources, research, support services and recovery strategies. Join this diverse, action-driven gathering of individuals with mental health conditions, family members and caregivers, policymakers, educators, researchers, clinicians, providers, exhibitors, sponsors and press this year in Washington, D.C. Registration is available at http://www.nami.org/convention/
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Healing Through the Arts
I read an article by Ryann Tanap where she describes visiting a powerful exhibit in Pittsburgh called, Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art. All forms of art provide a way for persons to share their life experiences. For this reason, art can be especially therapeutic for persons living with mental illness. In an exhibit like this, the art also offers an opportunity for others to gain an understanding and perspective of what mental illness may feel like from the perspective of the artist.
Tanap writes, “The great thing about art is that it is created and experienced in a safe space. Art, a form of creative expression and storytelling, lends itself to providing a unique immersion into the world of mental illness when it is created by individuals with lived experience. We can begin to break down stigma when we approach mental illness through the perspective of an artist or performer. No single person’s lived experience is the same, and we discover that their artwork, through sculpture, painting, writing, video and other mediums, captures the very real and human side to mental illness.”
I recently joined a beginners watercolor class offered in my community. Even though the participants in the class were learning techniques while painting the same picture, I was amazed at how different each finished painting turned out. And because I was involved in the creative process, my stresses and concerns faded. Another benefit was enjoying the new people that I met and sharing some of their life experiences through our respective paintings.
We are seeing a proliferation of “coloring books” for adults and children. Many cultures use mandalas for meditation and healing. Coloring the detailed designs helps us to focus as well as quiet inner thoughts. When our stress and anxiety is calmed, we are able to redirect our thinking, relax and maybe even come up with creative solutions to the things that have been bothering us. Whatever form of the arts you choose, I encourage you to experience the healing power of the arts.
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119