In the United States one in five Americans will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year (Mental Health America). Even though so many people struggle or know someone who struggles with mental illness, there is stigma attached.
Since the beginning of my faith community nurse ministry in 2003, education and conversation about mental health has been a priority. Just over eight years ago the reality of serious mental illness became a part of my family life when my son was diagnosed, and we began the rollercoaster journey of seeking treatment, hospitalizations, and his feelings of hopelessness. We as his family knew of the struggles in his mind and the depth of his anxiety and paranoid thinking. Those in the community who knew him saw only his smile, kindness, and quick mind. I too have been challenged by depression at times in my life and I know many others who have faced that challenge. Mental health challenges are not always visible to others.
When I am open in conversation I am astounded by the personal stories of mental illness, addiction, and suicide that others share with me. Often, I hear, “I don’t know why I shared that with you,” said in wonderment and relief. It is my conviction that being honest about our own challenges helps others share their stories. It is the illusion of perfection that our society holds in high esteem that makes many of us feel like we do not measure up, like we are a failure. Sharing our story can help others know they are not alone in their struggles. People need to feel heard and loved.
Most people think about mental illness as severe mental illness that results in limitations in day-to-day functioning or disability. The truth is that the prevalence of severe mental illness is low. The most common mental illness is defined as any mental illness which ranges from no impairment in daily living to serious impairment. Many struggling with a mental health challenge continue to live their life and may hide their feelings of depression or anxiety. We must normalize conversations around mental health challenges to encourage and enable honest discussion so people can get the support that they need.
Now more than ever due to the stress, fear, and isolation of the pandemic, all age groups are experiencing increased anxiety and depression. (The Pew Research Center). Mental Health America reports that 46% of Americans will have a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their life. Young adults aged 18-25 and LGBTQ+ youth are particularly at risk. These statistics are concerning.
ALL people are loved by God no matter their age, gender identity, race, profession, or life circumstances. ALL people desire connection. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 reminds us of the importance of connecting with others: Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. (“Bible Gateway passage: 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 - The Message”)
Stigma around seeking help for any physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental health concern isolates people who are suffering and delays treatment. This can result in a worsening health condition, further isolation, and feelings of hopelessness which sometimes leads to suicidal thoughts.You might wonder how you can reduce stigma and increase awareness. Last August, you may remember a reflection announcing that SNEUCC will Become a W.I.S.E Conference. You may remember that W.I.S.E. means welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and engaged for mental health.
The UCC Mental Health Network initiative W.I.S.E for Mental Health is one way to begin to build awareness. Resources and a step-by-step plan to encourage congregations to become W.I.S.E. can be found at https://www.mhn-ucc.org. Another resource offers a guide for Mental Health Sunday, which is May 21, 2023, on the UCC calendar.
Learning about your community is also helpful. Make connections with your local emergency responders, social services, youth and family services, mental health providers, schools, community centers, NAMI chapter and others to learn what they offer and how you can help. Congregations can offer meeting space for organizations such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, collaborate on educational programs, or create a resource list to help people in need. Many community organizations will provide education on mental illness, how to respond in a crisis, and suicide prevention for your congregation.
May is recognized nationally as Mental Health Month. Now is the time to educate ourselves and others, to recognize that ALL people are God’s children, and ALL are our neighbors. When we take the time to really listen to each other, share our stories and be present in our struggles, lives can be changed. SNEUCC W.I.S.E. Task Team members hope you and your congregation will join the conference in becoming W.I.S.E. The W.I.S.E. Team meets monthly.
The depth of despair and fear, depression, and anxiety in our country due to gun violence, political discord, and assaults on people’s rights to be who they are without fear, is overwhelming. Imagine the impact we might have if all congregations in the conference advocate for mental health! Imagine the impact we might have by modeling the love of God for ALL each and every day in our communities!
If you would like to join the SNEUCC W.I.S.E. Task Team or if you have questions, please contact Debbie Ringen.
Opportunities and InformationBecoming a Mental Health W.I.S.E. Congregation
Thursday, May 4, 2023
2-3 PM EDT
Leader - Rev. Dr. Sarah Griffith Lund
A W.I.S.E. congregation has joined the mission to being Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged in the Mental Health of the community and the wider world.
UCC Mental Health Network
Mental Health America National Mental Health Month toolkit -this toolkit provides ready to use fact sheets, media posts articles and information to use.
Mental Health First Aid
National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI Provides resources, education, advocacy, community programs, support groups and more.
Find your local NAMI affiliate.
NAMI Walks Form a team to join the NAMI Walk in your area to support mental health advocacy.
National Institute of Mental Health. 2023 report
Suicide Prevention AdvocacyAmerican Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness Walks
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA),
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
See SNEUCC Blog for Suicide Prevention Resources
QPR Gatekeeper Suicide Prevention Training
Debbie Ringen supports the Conference vision to make God’s love and justice real through wellness ministry at the Conference and local church level. In addition to providing resources, educational workshops, blogs and networking opportunities, she is...