This is Mental Health Awareness Week, and as a minister who has bipolar disorder, I am aware that churches tend to be filled with silence not awareness. One of my passions is helping churches become more aware of mental health issues and know that recovery is possible. A great deal of stigma stems from the church which once (and some still do) thought it was a form of demon possession and that reading the Bible more and praying would take care of the problem. Heaven forbid a person take a medication or see a therapist! (I have found both really helpful.)
Mental health disorders are not due to a lack of faith, but are a biological condition much like heart disease or diabetes. A person can have a genetic vulnerability to it and stressors may trigger it, but a mental health disorder can happen to anyone regardless of their faith, gender, age, race or socio-economic status. It is not a respecter of persons. There is nothing shameful about having a mental health disorder and we need to work to fight against the stigma that surrounds it. It is not the person’s fault!
The good news is that recovery is possible. I’m not talking about a cure, but a person being fueled by hope, building on their strengths and abilities, becoming more resilient and well, and developing an identity apart from their disorder. 70-90% of people who receive appropriate treatment and support become significantly better. Some show no sign of every having had a mental health disorder.
Unfortunately, many people do not know this. While waiting to see my case manager this morning, I heard a mother tell staff that her son did not need therapy, that he had a mental illness and would not get better, that she has dealt with him since he was 15 years old. I should have said something, but I didn’t. I thought “How sad for this boy to have a mother who has no hope that he can get better when he could, and how sad for the mother to still believe what she was told years ago when we did not know about recovery.”
Yesterday, I preached on our church’s Mental Health Sunday. I told them a story about a time I had been hospitalized because I was suicidal. I praised them because they have been accepting and welcoming of me as well as others who have a mental health disorder, but I told them there is more they need to do. They need to learn about mental health disorders, about recovery, about local resources, and how to be supportive in such a way that recovery is promoted. There is much people can do to be truly supportive, and I will write about it in my next blog.
Rev. Mary Alice Do, who has bipolar disorder, is a retired Disciples of Christ minister and has worked 16 years in the mental health community providing recovery information and advocacy. Read the rest of her posts for IBPF here, or watch her webinar on How Churches Can Promote Recovery. She also has a blog of her life story called Journey Towards Wellness.