Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Church of England time to change campaign

It was very refreshing to read a report online about a Church of England sermon written to counteract the stigma attached to mental illness. To read the entire report go to http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/341926

In part it reads: "Many of the people we read about in Bible stories might today be considered as having mental health issues.

"For example, ‘Would Jesus’ family maybe on occasion have said, ‘Cousin John is a bit odd, bless him!’ when John the Baptist took to his eccentric style of life?

"It has long been thought that King Saul, in the books of Samuel, was displaying mood swings that suggest he had bi-polar disorder and some think that St Paul’s Damascus Road experience was the result of some sort of breakdown or psychotic episode.

"Even Jesus was not immune to accusations about his mental health: there is a story in the gospel that tells of his mother and siblings attempting to take him home because they are afraid that he has lost his mind.

"Many of the stories of the Saints, too, have led people to discuss their mental health. "For example was St Francis suffering from a mental health title?"

Acknowledging how shocking these ideas might be, Ms McIntyre, a member of the General Synod, adds: "Some may find these suggestions disturbing or offensive even.

"Perhaps we need to ask why it would be so terrible to think that some of our most inspirational forebears might have experienced mental health illness.

"Do we mistakenly believe that God cannot or will not work through people with mental health illness?

"Do we think that mental illness is one condition that makes people less able to do God’s work, more unlikely to be able to articulate spiritual truth, and unable to participate meaningfully in worship?

"Who do we think ‘these people’ are? Statistics show us that one in four people suffer from mental health illness during their lives.

"That figure is based on those who go to the GP for help; the true figure is likely to be even higher.

"That means in a congregation of 50 people, at least 12 people will have experienced or be experiencing mental health issues.

"That includes the clergy and ministers, too. These conditions are part of human living; they are often caused by life experience such as grief, trauma and loss.

"These are things that happen to all of us and none of us should have to suffer in silence for fear of what others might think or say."

I sent this to my pastor, asking him, "Would you dare to preach a sermon like this?" Amongst other things he said, "I understand and support the need to remove stigma from those who suffer from mental illness. But I believe that happens as we learn to live out what it means to love and accept one another as Christ has accepted each one of us. And love and acceptance encompasses not only those who suffer from mental illness but those from differenct cultural and racial backgrounds, those who live and believe differently, those who dress and act differently, and on it goes. When we love and accept each other unconditionally in that way the stigma attached to any one group will fade."

What concerns me about the stigma people with mental illness experience is that so often their illness is blamed on sin or not being close to God. It's a medical problem that is too often spiritualized by well meaning Christians. It's not just that we differ culturally or racially, or that we live and believe differently, or that we dress differently or act differently. We have a medical condition. Except for Aids, people with other medical problems are not stigmatized on the basis of their condition.

I guess that what really hurts is the fact that we are too often blamed for something we can't help - something that causes us a lot of suffering. To be stigmatized multiplies our suffering in an enormous way.

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