I shared this image on Facebook last week
Having seen it and thought: this can’t be right, can it? At least half a dozen of my friends commented that this definitely summed up their experience with statutory mental health services. No-one (so far) has said otherwise. How on earth is anyone meant to get better?
10th October is Mental Health Awareness Day and there’s been so many stories in the press about how our girls are suffering, about how the vast majority of sufferers choose to hide mental illnesses at work, about how our society is causing many of the problems we are seeing in children and adolescents (TED talk), about the inadequacies of Children and Adolescents Mental Health Service (CAMHS). And all of this is great for raising awareness and hopefully going some way to beginning to lessen the stigmatisation from friends, family and random strangers. But seriously, if the Mental Health Service is stretched to this kind of breaking point (which it undoubtedly is) then how the hell is anyone meant to access help??
Now, please understand, I am not having a go at mental health professionals who choose to work in the public sector – in many ways you guys are the heroes and I don’t know how you’re coping yourselves with such limited resources and such growing need. Like nurses, doctors, midwives and consultants in the NHS the pressure you are under must be huge.
I also know that there are many organisations and individuals outside the public sector doing some amazing work: MIND; Young Minds; Blurt Foundation; Natasha Devon MBE and The Self Esteem Team plus many more.
But the absence of a centralised support structure is surely felt more keenly – diagnosis and treatment becomes even more of a postcode lottery, there are stories of people having to travel miles to access the support they need. Surely this has got to change?
Where is the church in all this? Mental illness can be seen as a big scary thing to try and take on, I agree that more specialists are needed in our health care system, I agree that those who are not specialists should not try and take on the responsibility of diagnosis or treatment, but since Jesus calls us to love the lost, and said that he was called to help the sick not to reassure the healthy (it’s a paraphrase but I don’t think I’ve strayed too far from the meaning in Matt 9v12; Mark 2v17; & Luke 5v31) there must be something we as the church can do to show love and compassion for those who are struggling with mental illness.
Too often we feel forced to show up to our church services with our ‘game faces’ on; too often mental illness is dismissed as sinful behaviour, or caused by some unforgiveness in the sufferers life; too often there’s not enough awareness, compassion or kindness in our gathering together. Can I just say that again: there’s not enough awareness, compassion or kindness in our gatherings. We who are called to have compassion, who know that kindness and gentleness are characteristics we ought to be pursuing, are too often woeful at this.
Being loving, accepting, encouraging, gentle, kind, people of peace and humility would be a good place to start; encouraging those in our churches to do the same would also be helpful.
What do you think? How could church help those struggling with mental illness?
Or maybe your church does help – what do they do that’s especially good?
I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments here or on social media!