|Photo courtesy of Trinity Presbyterian Church.|
by Dee Lindblom
(First printed in the South Washington County Bulletin and the Woodbury Bulletin)
Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 5 – 11) is a national public awareness campaign that seeks to educate Americans to the reality of mental illness. It was established in 1990 by Congress to perpetuate recognition of what mental illnesses are and are not.
Serious mental illnesses are abnormalities of the brain that cause disturbances in a person’s thinking, feeling and moods; they are not caused by a lack of character or by poor parenting. An estimated one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year, affecting people of every race, ethnic heritage, gender, language, age and religious orientation. During the first week of October, mental health advocates and organizations across the U.S. join together to sponsor events to promote community awareness and discussion concerning mental illnesses such as depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Unfortunately, both ignorance and fear continue to play primary roles in perpetuating the stigma that those with these brain disorders encounter, preventing many from seeking the treatment that they need. In addition, this stigma leads to underfunding of government services, discrimination by insurance companies, lack of appropriate housing and employment options, and pervasive media portrayal of persons with mental illnesses as violent, dangerous, or hopeless.
Advancing an end to stigma and advocating for mental illness treatment and recovery is not exclusively a secular venture. Religious communities have an obligation to offer nurturing environments for persons dealing with mental illnesses and their families and friends. Religious communities should unconditionally walk alongside those who are suffering with gentleness, compassion and love. Places of worship should impart the message of acceptance and hope that professionals cannot necessarily give. The ministry of the church is called to complement the healing associated with talking therapies, professional care or medication, as well as provide reassurance to people with the illness that they are worthy in the eyes of God.
There is often the misconception that a disease of the brain is a punishment from God, or that God is specifically giving them a cross to bear, or worse, that it is a sign of God’s lack of love for them. It has been inferred that those with a mental disease have brought the illness on themselves or that they possess inadequate faith, and, that they would become well if they would immerse themselves in Bible study and fervent prayer. Religious communities should replace these inaccuracies by helping families understand that “these diseases are not their fault,” and offer healing prayer that reflects the biological nature of mental illness just like any other disease. A congregation can be a supportive presence through the journey of recovery, praying for healing while encouraging the person to continue with sound medical practices.
For people who find no other welcome from society in general, being welcomed in a house of prayer by a concerned and caring populace can make a significant difference for those with mental illnesses and their families.