In December, 2014, Augustana Lutheran closed their doors as a congregation after 85 years of ministry in downtown Edmonton. The resulting sale of their church building enabled them to leave a legacy of help and hope for the Synod of Alberta and the Territories. One way they wished to do this was through a donation to the Synod for a Mental Health Awareness Initiative.
C.A.RE: Congregational Action and REsponse for Mental Health
C.A.RE. is a Synod-wide initiative focusing on the following priorities:
- raising awareness of the reality of mental health issues in congregations;
- educating and training lay people and rostered leaders about mental illness, and helpful responses;
- identifying resources available to congregations; and
- encouraging development of local responses by congregations
This initiative has a number of goals, one of which is to assist congregations to become more informed of mental health issues in society and the church, and to share resources and ideas with the Synod.
Contemplation and Spring Walking – May 2017.
As summer seems to be coming quickly, I want to spend a few minutes reflecting on spring walking and contemplation and mental health. I am sure that I am not alone in my belief that well-being is hard to accomplish. As so often happens to me in April- May of each year, I am filled with a lot of ideas on how to get started on that elusive road to well-being.
I am happy to say that what is working for me – day in and day out – is walking and prayer. Combining the two practices, I am experiencing rest, relaxation and improved health getting outside and spending time with God in Nature and in prayer.
The walking part of the practice is straight-forward – whatever pace I am going at the time, and the prayer part is contemplation: one of the four classic types of prayer – reading, meditation, reflection and contemplation, which has also been described as resting in God.
So, how do I start to contemplate as I walk? If I can, I try to read some form of daily prayer or wellness reading before I walk and pray. Some days there is something on my mind as I start walking that does not seem to have an easy answer. Some days I simply want to get out of our apartment and see God in Nature – I am blessed to be near a green-way and the North Saskatchewan River and a walking bridge is less than a kilometre away! I focus on getting comfortable for the first few minutes and inviting God to spend time with me as I walk.
Once I am at a comfortable pace, I begin to slowly let go the often over-busy thought process I am caught up in and continually return to following my breath. One phrase I use is “Back to your breath” to get me to re-focus. When it is thirty below, the focus is mostly on keeping my face warmer from fogging up my glasses but fortunately we have three other seasons where return to focus on the breath is calming, and many days slows down the rush of thoughts in my mind. On the days it does not do so, I can switch to an Intercessory prayer for those who have asked for prayer, or for the world in general. Prayers of repetition can also be helpful on days full of mind-chatter. As I continue to walk, letting go of stray thoughts or worries or ideas, I start to notice the birds, the sun, the clouds and the people passing by. I have moments of staying in the here and now. I praise God and give thanks for my breath, the sun, the rain and the goodness of God! If I again stray into worrisome thoughts I nudge myself back to my breath. If that does not work, as I noted, I try prayer. In all of this process I am outside with God and mostly I am happy – God is good!!
Suggestions to get started are three in number. Initially, be realistic; if walking the hall in your apartment is your first walk, enjoy it and let go (for now) thoughts of walking to Everest base camp! Secondly, wear footwear that is supportive and comfortable. Thirdly, read some more on walking and some more on walking prayer and on contemplative prayer. I am not walking to Everest base camp but I enjoy reading about hikers and reading about contemplators and how they are carrying out their passions – many good tips to be learned for me on my trip down to the river on my urban greenway!
In closing, God is good and has given us a luxury of ways to praise, and pray, and to be in Nature. I have found comfort, solace and improved mental health and time with the Lord in walking and in contemplating. If this article has raised an interest in you to try it out: best wishes and, as has been told to me all my life, perhaps today would be a good day in God’s good world to get started!!
Mike – Rev. Mike Lynch – CARE Committee.
Mental Health Week
Mental Health Week in Canada is May 1-7. This is a national event to encourage people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage others on all issues relating to mental health. One fifth of Canadians in any year experienced a mental health problem or illness. In addition, 1.6 million Canadians report their mental health care needs are not being met. The efforts we make to deal with mental health issues are an investment in the mental wealth of our population.
There still is a great deal of stigma about mental health issues. Communities of faith can be a means of breaking the silence about these issues because these communities can be a source of hospitality, healing and hope. A recently posted story of one man’s journey with mental illness and the role of the church for him is found at www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/the-church-and-th…
The Congregational Action and “REsponse for Mental Health (CARE) ministry of the Alberta Synod also provides resources on mental health for congregations to use. www.albertasynod.ca.
National Child and Youth Mental Health Day is May 7th. Youth are the future of our nation. How can we support them and make sure that when they experience a mental health issue they are heard and given the help they need. It is estimated that about 1 in 5 children or adolescents in the US and Canada may have a mental health problem that can be identified and treated. One in 20 may have a serious emotional disturbance like depression. Such issues severely disrupt the person’s ability to function socially, academically and emotionally. Suicide is a very serious threat to youth with serious mental health issues. Canada’s youth suicide rate is the 3rd highest in the world.
How can we support the mental health of our youth? We can start by encouraging caring conversations about mental health with our youth. When 400 young people were asked How would you like to have adults talk to you about your mental health, they had some great ideas. Caring conversations between youth and adults had these elements:( see www.FamilySmart.ca/programs/may-7th/)
Acknowledgement: “I’m here for you and I validate your feelings or thoughts”, “It’s going to take time”, “ You are important and deserve love and support” You are not your mental illness,” “What you’re feeling is valid”, “We can work through it together”.
Praise: “You are awesome”, “I’m proud of you!!” “You’re generous” “You look great!”
Open, Inviting Questions : “Are you having any trouble with homework? “How can I help?” “ What do you need right now? “ “Come talk to me,” “ I don’t know what to tell you, but I will always listen and care for you”. “Let’s get help?” “Wanna talk about it?”
Uncategorized : “I love you”, “Give hugs”,” Take all the time you need I will be here”
Reassurance: “Trust me, I love you so much.” “I believe in you”. “ If you need space have it but I’ll always be here to listen”, “I’m here for you no matter what happens.”
Make our homes and congregations safe places to have conversations with our youth about mental health issues.
Faithfully Changing the Conversation
So much of life is challenging. As we meet the challenges, life is rewarding. As a Lutheran I know that Christ calls us all to live compassionately, supportively, as an interdependent community; not just of our families, our neighborhoods, our churches, but indeed a community of all humans. That’s a huge challenge, and one that is always worth meeting in small and large ways every day.
Challenges bring us to change, and contrary to the most common statements about change (that almost no one likes it), everyone loves change, but only when we get to choose change for ourselves!
We face a challenge in each of us, in our communities, in our churches, in the world: it’s how we think and respond to mental illness. And in order to meet that challenge we need to know some things about mental health, illness, flourishing and languishing.
Why would you want to learn these things? Let me share with you results from another group that I work with: the Interfaith Homeless Initiative in Edmonton. We learned that homelessness is not an “Us vs. Them” issue. Economic realities have always forced people out of their homes on to the streets. And there is no guarantee that it will not happen to anyone of us or our loved ones; maybe not tomorrow, but perhaps next week, month, year. Spending focused time, energy and money has drastically reduced the number of homeless people in Edmonton. And it is saving us all so much more than we’ve invested to get where we’ve come! Why did we not do this sooner!?!
We did not do it sooner, because we buried our heads in the sand and allowed bad thinking, selfish thinking, unchristian thinking to determine how we thought, talked and acted.
Every day we must meet innumerable challenges. As we meet them successfully we flourish. As we fail to meet them we languish. When the marvelous chemistry of our brains get scrambled we may be diagnosed with a mental illness, temporarily or as a chronic condition.
And this is my point: anyone of us at any moment can experience a trauma so powerful, so devastating that our brain chemistry can become scrambled. We can become mentally ill at any moment!
More to the point: each day most of us run the gamut of meeting challenges and not meeting challenges, of flourishing and languishing, and our brains react healthily and in small or large ways unhealthily.
I am a Lutheran and we confess that we are all simultaneously Saints and Sinners; that we are fully responsible for our sinner stuff, and God alone by Grace is responsible for our saint stuff; and that the two, Sinner and Saint stuff happens continuously, simultaneously all our lives long. We know about flourishing and languishing at the same time all our lives long.
Mental illness is not an “us vs. them” issue. It is about us all, all the time. We are not left without many resources to deal more successfully with these issues. We are interdependent communities, faith communities, people of compassion and loving sacrifice to bring life, better life, to everyone in our midst. Today we may not need support from outside our brain to flourish. But tomorrow!?! Tomorrow we may need a compassionate caring community to help us through a temporary or even permanent challenge that our brain simply cannot deal with on its own.
That’s why we need to think, speak, and act differently around issues of mental illness.
Today others need us to be a compassionate caring community of faith. Tomorrow we may need the community to be there for us. And it is often a life and death emergency, building inside our communities, and one day maybe inside of us.
Christ call us to be God’s Grace, the Grace that transforms sinners into saints. Are you able and willing to be the hands of Christ, today?
Mindfulness: The Art of Being Present
Have you ever made it all the way from your front door to your workplace in the morning and wondered if you turned off the stove, or locked the door, or even how you got there? We live in a world that is constantly in motion. This can lead to intense feelings of anxiety, depression, and being overwhelmed, leaving us exhausted and desperate for rest. This constant stress can lead to poor physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Most people are familiar with the recommendation that we should get at least thirty minutes of physical activity a day in order to keep our bodies healthy, and this is definitely important. But in this stressful world, many of us would benefit from taking more time each day to focus on our inner well-being by exercising our minds. There is a practice for focusing on mental health called “mindfulness.” Mindfulness involves being fully present and aware of yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. The practice has been proven to hold many powerful benefits for mental, spiritual, and physical health.
Virtually every religious tradition through the ages validates the inner experiences of contemplation and meditation – silence, stillness, compassion. Christian meditation is also known as contemplative prayer.
In meditation, the mind slows down the rush of thoughts until it comes to rest, at least theoretically. Often, a centering mantra, focussing on breath, scanning the body, or contemplating an icon focuses the mind away from thinking, worrying, or planning.
Registered Psychologist at Cornerstone Counselling Centre, Jim Chalmers, offers his expert advice on mindfulness, indicating that “mindfulness is an exercise that one can learn to reduce stress and improve one’s quality of life.” He explains that mindfulness teaches you how to dramatically reduce stress, which has an unequivocal, positive effect on overall health and well-being.
Incorporating mindfulness into your life might seem a little tricky, but there are many options. One of the first steps to achieving mindfulness is becoming aware of the simple things that are going on around you—paying attention to your breathing or observing the thoughts that go through your mind.
You might benefit from guided mindfulness meditation practices available online. Search for “guided meditation” to find one that suits you.
Becoming mindful is uncomplicated, but not easy. It requires your full attention, and more than a bit of discipline.
Chalmers explains that mindfulness is a skill that you can improve and build upon so that eventually you can apply it in stressful situations. Just as you set aside time to go to the gym to work out, you should set aside some practice time on a regular basis to improve your mindfulness. Generally, ten minutes a day for six to seven days a week should be enough to begin with. Within a period of three to four weeks, you should feel the benefits within your daily life. Some of the benefits that you might notice include:
- a reduction of intrusive and stressful thoughts
- improved memory and concentration
- deepened insight into feelings and reactions
- enhanced emotional flexibility
- reduced blood pressure
- improved sleep
Simple tasks that you perform daily by just going through the motions—brushing your teeth or washing the dishes—could be done mindfully simply by becoming conscious (aware) of your present actions. This is one of the first steps to achieving a state of being aware, calm, and present, all of which add up to mindfulness. Mindfulness has the ability to improve your quality of life. The more you practice mindfulness, the more mentally fit you will be and the better you can use this skill to deal with stress and handle tough situations.
Some books you might find helpful are Frequently Asked Questions about Christian Meditation: The Path of Contemplative Prayer by Paul Harris and Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
29 November 2016
New Mental Health First Aid Workshop “Graduates”
On November 4 and 5th John Dowds, Edmonton City Chaplain, led a Mental Health First Aid workshop at Hosanna Lutheran Church, sponsored by the CARE Ministry Team. 18 individuals attended from Holy Spirit, Ascension, Peace (Leduc), St. Paul’s (Ellerslie), Hosanna and Trinity Lutheran churches. Carl Sorensen, Dr. Dianne Kieren, Marcus Busch and Rev. Mike Lynch from the Care Ministry Team provided support for the vent.
This is the second invitation-only workshop that has been sponsored by the CARE Ministry team. The first workshop invited synod leaders including synod council members, bishop and assistant bishop, deans, youth leaders, campus ministry leaders and CARE ministry team members to attend. Fourteen persons attended this workshop.
One of the important goals of the CARE Ministry team of the synod is to provide educational opportunities about mental health to all congregations. It is based on the view that churches and their members have an important role to play in supporting persons experiencing mental health issues and their families. Mental Health First Aid Canada programs offered in the province were identified as one means to that end (http: mentalhealthfirstaid.ca). The course originated in Australia, and is also taught in the United States. In Canada, Mental Health First Aid is a program of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Over two full days, participants learn about a variety of mental illness conditions and are taught how to approach and support someone developing an illness or having a crisis. Participants are prepared to provide initial help and guide a distressed person to appropriate professional and community support. Mental Health First Aid Canada recognizes that people with mental illness are able to recover a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Those with mental illness are able to live in a way that is satisfying, hopeful, and contributing to the common good.
The CARE ministry team is planning to offer other invitation-only courses in Calgary, central Alberta and for our far northern congregations.
You still have an opportunity to participate in a Mental Health First Aid Workshop. Up to three members from each congregation in the synod may apply for a $100 scholarship to attend any MHFA workshop in the province. You only need to go to the MHFA webpage, find a workshop in your area, register and attend and submit your receipt to the synod office to obtain the scholarship. Prices vary depending upon the leader of these workshop.
We are pleased to be building a strong team of persons in our synod congregations who are more aware and more knowledgeable about how to respond in a caring and informed way to the needs of persons experiencing mental health issues.
Helping Someone with Depression –
Depression is a debilitating illness not easily understood by those who have never suffered it. Kathryn Greene-McCreight has written a book in which she describes her experience of depression. It is called “Darkness Is My Only Companion”. The title itself gives a clue to the author’s experience of depression. She also describes it as “a gnawing, overwhelming sense of grief, with no identifiable cause.” When she is depressed, “every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.”
Caring congregations can be helpful to those suffering depression. As the depression begins to develop, the sufferer may look sad, dejected or anxious. They may neglect their physical appearance and hygiene, and may appear tired. As the depression deepens, the depressed person will have little energy to leave their home for worship. A close family member or friend may discover that they are ill and ask their church for help. If they are more isolated, the depressed person’s absence from worship may be the first clue for faith community members that something has gone wrong with their mental health.
If, at any time in your interactions with a person suffering depression, they express thoughts of suicide, take them seriously and seek professional help immediately.
The most important thing that anyone can do for someone with depression who is not suicidal is to help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and medication. It may be helpful to affirm that depression is a real medical condition and requires attention from a medical doctor. Depression takes time to develop, and can take time to resolve, but it will get better faster with the right help. Supportive people can encourage a depressed person to take any prescribed medication and to refrain from using alcohol while taking prescribed medications.
Emotional and spiritual support is important to anyone suffering with depression. Reassure them that they are not unloved or forgotten by God, although they may well feel that way in the midst of deep depression. Martin Luther said that, in times when we do not feel God’s presence, we have to rely on God’s Word and the promises we read there.
Treat those with depression with patience, affection and encouragement. Do not disparage the feelings they express, but point out realities and offer hope. Invite the depressed person for a walk, as movement is therapeutic. Continue to ask him or her to join you for activities that you know they have enjoyed in the past, even if they’re not up to going out right now. Remind them that, with time and help, most depressed people do get better.
Because depression can be so debilitating, congregations can be the ideal support system for a suffering person. A small team of members can work together to support the depressed person and each other as they seek to offer hope and encouragement to someone who desperately needs their care.
 Greene-McCreight, Kathryn (2006). Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness. Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, p. 29.
 Ibid, p. 29.