Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The relationship between health and mental health

A few days ago, I acknowledged Mental Health Awareness Week (Oct. 5-11) by cross-posting an item from Dee Lindblom’s blog. The founder of the Faith-Based Health and Wellness Network, Lindblom is known for advocating on behalf of the mentally ill. 

And just this morning, I came across Beth Merrill Neel’s moving piece at the Christian Century in which she describes the effects on her congregation of the death by suicide of a beloved member who “lived with a bipolar disorder.”

Neel writes:

We were talking about health and mental health the other day in staff meeting, and I asked why mental health issues couldn’t just be called health issues. After all, many of the diseases that affect one’s emotional life are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, a physical thing. And then I commented that physical health issues take their mental toll too, and confessed, I think for the first time, that I have been in pain every day for the last year. That takes a toll. I get down about it, I get frustrated and angry and discouraged.

We were talking about health because a member of our congregation—a beloved, vivacious woman—completed suicide a few weeks ago, and we are all pretty wrecked about it. She lived for years with a bipolar disorder that she chose to hide from many who knew her, and so her choice to end her life came as a shock to most of the congregation.

To say she was vivacious only begins to describe her: vivacious, hilarious, organized, fun, friendly, kind, thoughtful of so many. That was what she chose to show the world, and that was her authentic self. But I want to honor the fullness of who she was, and say that the withdrawn, sad parts were her authentic self too, but a part that she chose not to show most of the world. When she went into the valley of the shadow, she stayed home and hunkered down. A few of us knew that, and tried to support her as best we could. She left a note—organized person that she was, of course she left a note—and her sister read part of it at the memorial service. She assured us that there was nothing any of us could have done to stop her, that her decision had been made, that she knew how much we loved her and how much her death would hurt us.

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