Organizations throughout the world will be focusing on the issue of mental health during the month of May. Mental wellness, according to the World Health Organization, is: “a state of well-being where one can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work both productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community.”
Did you know that you are more likely to encounter a person in an emotional or mental crisis than you are to encounter someone having a heart attack? Did you know nearly 3 million people are treated for anxiety-related disorders every year – and that outpatient treatments for depression cost people nearly $18 billion each year? Did you know that many mental illnesses (like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) first strike young adults in their early 20’s? Did you know mental illness dramatically increase risk factors such as substance abuse, risky sex, prescription drug misuse, excessive spending, and even troublesome exercise routines? Did you know that people who are suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime that they are to commit one?
Unfortunately, people who suffer from mental illnesses are still stigmatized and pushed to the fringes of society because people remain both uninformed and afraid. We accept the fact that people’s arteries can become blocked, and that people’s pancreas can stop producing insulin. We stand beside folks who are fighting cancer, and we participate in support activities that are created to fight diseases. But what happens when someone’s brain chemistry changes? What happens when a person’s behavior is affected by a change that occurs inside their head? People who act in unusual ways can be scary to us. People who struggle with mental illness are often driven into silence, and often fight their battle alone because other people just do not want to get involved. I believe that God calls us, as Christians and as the Church, to something better than that. And I truly believe that the compassionate Lord challenges us to learn, to grow, and to love people that we find hard to understand and to fully embrace.
During Mental Health Awareness month, I’d like to challenge you to do several things:
- Learn – remembering that knowledge and insight are important first steps. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) provides information for people who are interested in learning about mental health, and provides helpful information for those who struggle with mental illness and their families. You can find more information by visiting: namiswpa.org
- Be Real – remembering that help is available to those who need it. You can take a first, big step by contacting your family doctor. I would be more than happy to sit down with you and to talk – and to help you to find a path forward. If you are a bit reluctant to take a “big step” like that, you might want to take a “Mental Health Screening” in the privacy of your own home during the month of May. You can find a great “Mental Health Screening” at: mentalhealthamerica.net. The “Resources” link on Mental Health America’s website can help you to screen for depression, alcohol or substance abuse, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. That same site provides a screening that young people (between the ages of 11 and 17) can use if they’re concerned that they might be having a problem, and another screening that parents can use if they think that their teenager is facing a challenge.
- Be Ready – remembering that times of crisis are NOT the time to start looking for more information and resources. If you’re feeling suicidal (or if someone tells you that he/she is thinking about ending his/her own life) call 911 so that you can get the help that you need without a moment’s hesitation! “NOW Mental Health” also provides a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline: 1-855-990-6729. “NOW Mental Health” network also provides instant access to professionally trained staff and referral to facilities that are spread across our country.
- Be Open – remembering that people at Christ’s Lutheran Church want to stand beside you and your family. We have a “Family Fund” that can help pay for your visit to a counselor, or that can help you to purchase prescribed medications that you need for self-care. Please, also, remember that I’ve worked as a chaplain at several hospitals and that I have had some experience working with people who are struggling with the challenges of mental illness. Any conversations that you have with me and any sort of assistance that you receive from the church will be offered in the strictest of confidence. What really matters most is YOU…!
I hope that, as we move through this month, we’ll all find ways to learn more about the challenges that people face when they struggle with mental illnesses. It’s time for us to learn to talk about things that make us feel uncomfortable, and it’s time for us to learn new ways to support people who are facing tough times. Our compassionate Lord calls us to love and to embrace each other – and part of learning to do that, as individuals and as a church, is learning to open our hearts and allow people to speak, both honestly and authentically, about the challenges that they’re facing in life – continuing to discover and growing-into what it means to be “Christ’s Church for All People.”