Mental Health Disease is the modern leprosy. We prefer it to be hidden away. It is a label, despite the wonderful work of Sir John Kirwan, of shame. There is also a kind of mystery around it for it can hit anyone in society no matter how healthy they look on the outside. Chronically underfunded and suffering from what might be called a significant class war between the medically trained psychiatric service and the somewhat less recognised counselling based service of psychologically trained professionals people get lost in the cracks of this landscape all the time. Professionals such as Ministers of Religion have little place in this menagerie until they can show that they can abide by the unspoken rules of the system – which may well be fair enough since this really only amounts to professional courtesy but try challenging the assumptions of those in charge and all bets are off.
However, I don’t want this to become another mental health services bashing exercise. I’m sure all those who serve there are doing their best. We in the Church need to put our house in order first and that’s why I simply want to put the question to us all – what are we doing about mental health in our churches? Have we ever preached on it? Have we ever tried to help the people in our church who are struggling with mental health feel as if their illness doesn’t define their humanity? Have we ever tried to understand a little more about mental illness?
The first thing that must happen if we are to break the curse of mental health is to talk about it openly and honestly. I myself have had a brief brush with depression. It was when I was 14 and after a very bad year at school. So dark was that year that I had nightmares about it for years afterwards and the memory of how I felt brought dread to my soul well into adulthood. But my journey was nothing compared to the people I’ve met along the way in my ministry. People whose lives have been brutally broken by long periods of depression; whose marriages have fallen victim to these episodes and whose families have struggled to understand and relate to their illness. And others whose illness has become such a poison to the family that the only thing they could do was separate themselves from the family member with the illness further isolating the victim and delivering them to a life on the streets.
It’s a highly destructive disease which we must work to both understand and deliver the best of our healing science to. I don’t think we’re there yet – do you?