“They said I wasn’t praying hard enough.”
“She told me my mental illness was my fault, that I must have unconfessed sin I wouldn’t deal with.”
“He told me to just smile, and maybe take some vitamins, as if that would help my depression.”
“Once our son had his psychotic break, people at church stopped asking us about him, they just didn’t talk about it. I know they just didn’t want to make it worse, but it hurt to feel alone.”
It happens every time. Every time I begin to share my story with a group of people connected to the Church, I begin a bit afraid, afraid my story of walking alongside my nieces who live with mental illness won’t connect with them, that they’ll look like they wish I hadn’t shared or that I wasn’t talking about such a topic.
Then I start to share, and their stories start. Stories of their friends, their family members, their own stories, about experiences with mental illness, and how the members of the Church either dropped the ball, hurt them with thoughtless words, or just…..said….nothing.
When it comes to mental illness, the Church doesn’t have it figured out yet, anymore than the rest of society. Because of the particular culture and beliefs of the Church, if we aren’t careful, if we aren’t intentionally loving and thoughtful, we may drive people away from the Church, away from the one place they should be sure they can find love, understanding and support.
Sure, not everyone has a terrible experience. I didn’t. My small group prayed me through 7 straight years of crisis and fear and psych hospitalizations. The church meals group brought meals, and people always asked how the girls were doing. More importantly, they listened when I told them it was hard, and I was scared, and I didn’t know if they’d get better.
But because I’ve been relatively open, I know that my experience is rare. As a whole, the Church needs to do a better job of equipping its members to feel just as comfortable walking alongside a family with a mental health crisis as they are walking alongside a family going through a big surgery, or a job loss, or a death in the family.
How do we get there? I believe it starts with listening to each others’ stories, hearing from each other what it’s like to live with mental illness, or to have a family member who does.
Be willing to seek the divine in others whose experiences are very different than yours.
We must be willing to bear witness to these difficult, beautiful stories, and then we can begin to imagine ways in which we can each help – ways in which we are uniquely qualified to help.
Start next Saturday with us, at the next Shattering Stigma event at New Hope Community Church in Happy Valley. You can get more info and register here. Hear about living with bipolar disorder, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and more.
Over the next several days I’ll be sharing a little bit about the folks you will hear speak.
If you live with a mental health challenge or you love someone who does, come! Be encouraged, and get equipped.
If you know someone who lives with a mental health challenge, or if you have never had the opportunity to learn, come!