Mental illness has been swept under the rug since the beginning of time. In fact, since long ago, many illnesses have unfairly been considered a consequence of the sin of the parents. This has strongly contributed to the stigma attached to mental health issues.
What we now know is that mental illness results from a chemical imbalance in the brain and/or is the result of significant negative life experiences. There can also be a familial element to mental illness. We may readily recognize mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, obsessive/compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, and more.
How many of us know persons with these illnesses? How well do we know how their illness is affecting them? Do we know how to support them?
As I was pondering what to write, Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign was in progress. It encourages people to talk about their mental illness and how it impacts their life. That’s the important reason for the talking. The campaign features well-known people in Canada talking about their mental illness, and what has helped them to cope with it and succeed despite their illness.
Hopefully, it has encouraged many others to seek the help they need for their illness. There’s an important lesson in this: listening to others is an important way to understand them better and learn how to support them.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a sharp rise in the number of persons experiencing mental illness, especially anxiety and depression. Restrictions have led to people losing the jobs with which they support their families and being restricted from everything from seeing friends and family to attending activities that give meaning to their life such as church or community groups. Partner abuse has increased because of men restricting their partners from leaving their homes and taking away their phones and computers. Families have been torn apart by opposing opinions on vaccination, and the Freedom Campaign.
So, how can we respond to persons with mental health illnesses?
First of all, we need to reach out to them. Listen attentively to what they have to say about their mental illness and how it impacts their lives. Pray with/for the persons with mental illness. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them. Get to know them as unique children of God—it is only then that you will be able to suggest ways in which they can be enfolded into the church family and that you will be able to suggest ways in which they can be of service within the church family and feel that they belong.
Finally, let’s not sweep mental illness under the rug ever again! We aren’t secretive about the fact that we have a broken leg that needs medical attention. We also shouldn’t be secretive about mental health issues. It is only in talking/sharing about it that we can be of help and support to each other in our journeys, and we can learn how to help each other find our gifts to share with our church family.