Friday, 12 October 2012

World Mental Health Day

It was World Mental Health Day yesterday.  It is strange to think that although society has moved on that there is still a stigma attached to suffering from a mental illness.  Many of us will suffer from a mental health problem at some stage in our lifetime.  Current statistics say that 1 in 4 of us will do so in the course of a year.[1]  There are many factors that affect our ability to cope, sometimes things beyond our control.  Mental health problems may by brought on by a stressful life event, such as, trauma, bereavement, or divorce, or a genetic predisposition towards mental illness, or may comes out of the blue with no apparent cause often bringing with it confusion and distress. To be diagnosed with a mental illness can be a frightening and bewildering experience.  Mental health problems are not always obvious in the same way perhaps a broken leg would be and can easily go unnoticed and hidden. Estimates are that 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem.[2]  Whilst this is a large number those who suffer often feel isolated, alone. When suffering from a mental illness those have been at the centre of church activity often gravitate to the edges of church activity as the become ill, and those who have had little church contact who are ill and may want to explore faith, find it difficult to enter even the fringes of church life.

Recent Government cuts to funding has meant that the mental heath charity, MIND, were forced to close its own drop-in centre facilities which had been a great source of comfort and help to many.  One of the things we have done in Burton was to invite the local Mind clients to come and join us at our weekly drop- in.  We do not provide counseling or medical advice but we can offer a non-judgemental ‘listening ear’, and signposting to other services if the need arises.  A year on relationships and trust are growing and we are seeing around 40 people dropping in on our Wednesday sessions, with some occasionally worshiping with us on a Sunday morning.   The Church is called to share the love of God (Mat 28:16-20) and to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mat 22:39) this includes extending friendship, and indeed love, to those who have been stigmatized and shunned by society.  According to the Mental Health Foundation, 

There is no single definition of the concept of recovery for people with mental health problems, but the guiding principle is hope – the belief that it is possible for someone to regain a meaningful life, despite serious mental illness. Recovery is often referred to as a process, outlook, vision, conceptual framework or guiding principle.[3]

The Christian message is full hope.  This is what we offer and yet we so often keep the gospel all to ourselves.  The word that best describes the Old Testament's understanding of health is Shalom which is often translated as ‘peace’ but in its wider meaning ‘completeness’, ‘wholeness’, ‘well-being’, ‘soundness’, ‘harmony’, or ‘prosperity’.  Good health then is about wholeness of mind, body, and spirit that requires a holistic approach that looks at the whole of a person.  Why is there so much tension between the psychiatric professions and the church when we want the same result?  To see people on the road to recovery, what ever that looks like.  Whilst psychology and the Church have different methodologies, reflected in their own language, for a fully holistic approach to mental health there is a need to work together for the sake of those we are trying to help.  

For true wholeness the spirituality of a person needs to be taken into consideration without this understand and acknowledgement those with mental health problems will continue to be misunderstood.  Some mental heath professionals struggle with the topic of spirituality thinking it not to be scientific enough and too akin to religion.[4]  Spirituality, however, is a characteristic of us all whether we consider ourselves to hold religious beliefs or not.  Spirituality is our outward expression of what is going on inside as we relate to the world we live in.  Spirituality is not a specifically religious concept although formal religion is one way that it is expressed.  The church has a role to play in helping those with mental health problems to explore their own spirituality and to find their own voice in their search for recovery.  Both the Church and mental health professionals have much to learn from each other’s specialist fields as we care for those with mental health problems.  Both have made mistakes in caring for those who are already struggling without adding to their problems.  It is time to work together for the sake of those we are trying to help.