Dr. Sharon Smith, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries in Vancouver, was one of the keynote speakers at the recent Study Conference of the ELCIC Synod of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Her topic was “ The Lived Experience of Mental Health Recovery and the Gifts of a Christian Community”. One of the important points that she made while sharing many personal stories of people who are living with mental health challenges was that: “Recovery involves … finding, maintaining and repairing hope; re-establishing positive identity; finding meaning; taking responsibility for wellness; and building a community connection”. For many, the church can be one of those communities to facilitate recovery. The gifts of the church community include many human person -to -person experiences, memories of the whole person before mental illness, experiencing liturgy so that we can be placed in a bigger story, hearing the language of hope so that incremental signs of recovery are possible, providing the structure and places to be to establish a rhythm of life that helps recovery, and offering friendship circles that can provide different types and levels of support. Not all churches are ready to be intentionally active in these activities. She challenged all of us to ask these questions about our church settings: What does your church do well in supporting mental health recovery? Where do you need to grow? Ask the people in your church who are leaders, who are persons who have experienced mental illness or are in the mental health recovery process, who are caregivers, who are professionals working in the mental health field. Begin the communication about strengthening your church’s role.
These are some of the resources that Dr. Smith suggested for further reading.
1.Canadian Mental Health Brochures (available through CMHA):
- Growing Older
- Coping with Caregiving at Home: A resource list for caregivers and their loved ones
- Mental Illness in the Family
- Franklin, Cynthia & Fong, Rowena. The Church Leaders Counseling Resource Book.
- Greene-McCreight, K. (2006) Darkness is my only companion. Brazos Press.
- Amadar, Xavier (2010). I am not sick: I don’t need help. Vida Press.
- Bergen, Maria (2008). A Firm Place to Stand: Finding meaning in a life with Bipolar disorder. Word Alive Press.
- Bergen, Maria (2014), Reflections for Highs and Lows. Word Alive Press.
- Pohl, Christine (1999). Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Erdmans Press.
- Clark, Isabel (Ed.) (2001). Psychoses and spirituality: Exploring New Frontiers. Whurr Publishing.
- Hart, Archibald. (2001) Unmasking male depression. W Publishing Group, T. Nelson.
- Swinton, John (2000). Resurrecting the person: Friendship and the care of people with mental health problems. Abingdon Press.
A Brochure is now available describing the work of the CARE Ministry Team. CARE Ministry Team brochure . We urge you to use it in your congregation to get started.
For congregations (Canadian)
- Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries
- Interfaith Network on Mental Illness
- Mental Health First Aid – www.mentalhealthfirstaid.ca/EN/Pages/default.aspx
This organization holds training sessions throughout the country for those who want to be able to identify those struggling with a mental health challenge, and who want to know how to respond. Prices vary according to the provider.
- Print resources: “Telling Secrets: A Path to Abundant Living/a New Educational Series About Mental Illness, Addiction, Suicide” available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
A guide to running a support group developed in an ELCA congregation by suicide survivors.
For congregations ((American)
- Pathways to Promise
- Mental Health Ministries
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Faith Net
- ELCA social statement: The Body of Christ and Mental Illness
www.elca.org/en/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Mes… – click on the “Social Message” tab.
There are also congregational resources at www.elca.org/Resources/Disability-Ministry
- “One Mind Mental Illness Ministry” available from email@example.com.
A guide to running a support group developed in an ELCA congregation.
- A statement by the Presbyterian Church USA called “Comfort My People: A Policy Statement on Serious Mental Illness” at www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/acswp/pdf./…
For rostered leaders
- Caring Clergy Project
- “Mental Health:A Guide for Faith Leaders” and “Quick Reference Guide on Mental Health for Faith Leaders” published by the American Psychiatric Foundation and available at www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/cultural-competen…
For the Mentally Ill and their Families (Canadian)
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Partners for Mental Health – www.parthersformh.ca
A site dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues in Canada.
Senator Michael Kirby was instrumental in establishing the organization.
- Kids’ Help Phone
1 800-668-6868, a free and confidential service.
Professional counsellors support those who are dealing with significant mental or emotional distress.
At their web site, www.kidshelpphone.ca, children and young adults can receive support online, chat and access information about mental health and relationships.
For the Mentally Ill and their Families (American)
- Healthy Place
A large collection of articles, blogs and other resources on a variety of mental illnesses.
Policy Development in Canada
- Out of the Shadows at Last
The 2006 report of a Mental Health Commission led by Senator Michael Kirby.
- Mental Health Commission of Canada
This group was established as a direct result of the 2006 report. They have developed a Mental Health Strategy for Canada.
Mental Health in the Workplace (Canadian)
- Not Myself Today
Downloadable mini kits are available to help Canadians talk about mental health issues in the workplace.
Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome article – Rev. Marty Tuer, Chaplain, Spiritual Care Services
Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury, Ponoka, AB
Helping Someone with Alcohol Use Problems
Problem Cannabis Use
Problem Drug Use
Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviours
The Chicago Archdiocese Commission on Mental Illness has produced a tool that suggests 15 specific actions for congregations who wish to support those with mental illness and their families. The tool was included in Mental Health Ministries Spring Spotlight (www.MentalHealthMinistries.net).
In recognition of Mental Health Week, May 4-10, 2015, the C.A.R.E wished to share five of these ministry actions from the Archdiocese:
“A Faith Community can establish that reputation with persons who have a mental illness and their families in a variety of ways. It is important to recognize the contributions people with mental illness can make to the church’s life and especially include them in this ministry. Then the ministry becomes mutual and we live our faith together and find solutions together.
The following are suggestions for creating an environment where people feel safe to share their experience:
1) An integral part of recovery for people with mental illness is to have a supportive faith community to rely on for spiritual needs in the recovery process. Families also need support in their need to deal with the mental illness of a family member. The parish community can offer much to people and families facing serious mental illness through inclusive, nonjudgmental, and unconditional love. A very effective means for a parish to help is to provide people to befriend persons with mental illness and listen compassionately to them, taking them seriously and offering them the simple gift of presence. It often takes time, even a year, to gain the trust elicited by compassion and care.
2) People with mental illness and their families will often come to a clergy person and parish leaders first when symptoms of the illness strike. It is important for clergy and leaders to listen with compassion and to know when to refer people to mental health professionals rather than attempt to solve psychological problems themselves or dismiss the problem. It is also important to know where in the community one can refer people for competent professional help and services. This can be done by forming relationships with mental health professionals and agencies. And it is equally important to stay in touch with the person and/or their family after a referral as major mental illness can cause a crisis of faith. People with mental illness and their families need the ongoing support of the Faith Community as well as professional help. The Faith Community can make a real difference in people’s lives when it reaches out and continues to support individuals and families affected by this disease.
3) Incorporate into intercessory prayer at worship services specific prayers for those suffering with schizophrenia, manic depression, anxiety disorders etc. This lets the Faith Community know that the community prays and cares for people with mental illness. The prayer sends the welcoming message to those who suffer with mental illness and to their family members that their community supports them.
4) Preach on the subject. Include references to persons with mental illness and their issues in homilies about social justice, caring for the poor, discrimination, and compassionate outreach to others. Avoid words or phrases in all sermons and communications that add to stigmatizing those who have mental illness.
5) Let Faith Community members know that their leaders and/or ministers want to visit people with mental illness when they are hospitalized. A hospitalization for mental illness is a traumatic time for the person and their family. It is an important time for ministerial presence. As for any major disease, the individual and family will have questions about God, faith, and “why me.” Ministerial presence and support will help them to understand and accept that this disease of the rain is not a punishment from God and not due to lack of faith.”