According to a Baylor study, more people with a mental illness seek help from clergy than from mental health professionals. This concerns me for two reasons. First, clergy learn very little about mental illness when they go to seminary. Second, like the general public, churches don’t generally talk about mental illness and aren’t really supportive. Even in the church which I attend and am an elder, there is a great deal of silence and awkwardness even though it is a very caring
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Mary Alice Do
I have had episodes of depression throughout my life and once I was so happy after taking an antidepressant that I danced around my bedroom. I didn’t realize I had a mental illness until I was 45 years old, and I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder until I was 59. You would have thought that, at a younger age, I would have figured out it since twice I stopped short of completing suicide and I occasionally cut myself.
I’ve had episodes of depression throughout my life, but it was only seventeen years ago that I realized I had a mental illness. Up until that time, I blamed the episodes on circumstances of my life like being away from home my first time, escaping from Vietnam in ’75, my husband becoming seriously ill, him dying, my daughters going off to college, etc. Some of the episodes were so severe that I seriously considered suicide, but I still didn’t think I had a mental illness.
Those of us who have a mental illness are sometimes told and also think that our mental illness is our fault because we lack faith. This is not the case. Mental illness is a biological disorder and can affect anyone. Let me tell you a story found in the Bible.
Mary Alice Do, M.Div., is a retired ordained minister, mother and grandmother. She has bipolar disorder, has had recurring episodes of depression throughout her life and was hospitalized twice. She worked seven years in ministry, 13 years providing peer support and two years doing case management for people with a serious mental illness. For nine years, she made monthly presentations on promoting recovery to new employees at a mental health agency. She currently presents a workshops Becoming a Supportive Church, and she is a NAMI presenter of In Our Own Voice.