Last Sunday we were joined by Karen and Jonathan, who are members of a missional community in East Leeds. Over twenty years they have gained a breadth and depth of experience of walking with and supporting folk with mental health issues, and so we invited them to come and share some of their stories and their wisdom, as we continue to think about what it means to be a community of inclusion and care. I’ve tried to capture some of that here, although what Karen and Jonathan shared will have inevitably become mixed in with some of my own thoughts, so please take this as my response rather than their word.
It’s okay not to be okay It’s really important to create an environment in which there is no shame or fear attached to talking about mental health. Saying that it’s okay not to be okay doesn’t mean being resigned or dismissive, but rather being nonjudgemental and accepting.
If something doesn’t sound right, don’t let it go Sometimes people need a little encouragement to share what is going on in their lives or in their heads, and it’s not being nosy to dig a little deeper if you have heard something that concerns you. And of course if you hear something that suggests somebody is in danger of or has been subject to abuse, there are safeguarding processes that need to be followed.
Deal with what is, pray for what could be We need to be both pragmatic and hopeful, acknowledging the truth of how things are but also holding onto the hope that they may be better. More on that below…
Ask ‘how can we help you to stay well?’ There are often really practical things we can do to help deal with what is, and asking this question is a really good place to start working out what those things are and putting plans into place. It is also important to remember that people really value simply being included (that’s why God put the widows and orphans in families) and need to see what they have to offer the community.
It doesn’t need to be fixed for God to be at work It is right and good to pray for healing, but we must remember that healing can take time and doesn’t always look the way we want it to. God can be in coping as well as in cure, and sometimes the answer to a mental health issue might be management not a miracle
The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book is a valuable resource It may have been written for people struggling with alcohol addiction, but the Twelve Steps programme contains a lot of wisdom for everyone. That’s why other groups such as Emotions Anonymous have developed off the back of it, and I seem to recall meeting with another community where everyone uses the programme.
The Mental Health Access Pack is also good I referred to this in my last post about mental health, and Karen and Jonathan gave it their thumbs up too. It has been co produced by a number of different Christian organisations and has information about common conditions and practical advice on how to support people living with them.
Recognise that this is going to hurt sometimes If we are going to live in the world with hearts engaged we cannot avoid getting hurt, and that is particularly true when it means living in relationship with others who are experiencing deep hurt. That’s why…
Self-care is really important Karen’s practical advice was to be honest about how you’re feeling, protect a day off and don’t feel guilty about it, love yourself with (and take care of) heart and soul and body and mind, recognise what is good for you and what is bad for you and what can lean one way or the other, do more of what keeps you well and less of what keeps you unwell.
I will come back to Karen’s ideas about self-care in a future blog, but I feel like there’s already enough to process, so I will leave things here for now. We have another guest speaker coming in July, to talk more about specific mental health conditions and how we might support those living with them, so watch out for more then. When one in four people will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives, this is a really important conversation to be having, so let’s keep talking and thinking and praying. And let’s continue to look after one another and ourselves.