Speaking Out About Mental Health

Speaking Out About Mental Health

He told the story of his battle with depression, attempted suicide, and slow road to recovery.  What struck me were the  comments he made about how he hid the pain.  He wanted to shield his family, his teachers, and even his therapist from his feelings of despair.  He said he became an expert at masking his real emotions, partly because he did not want those adults to feel the same pain he was carrying.  
The speaker was Sam Eaton, author of Recklessly Alive and recent keynoter at the NEAUCE Conference (New England Association of United Church Educators).

Sam shared the staggering statistics around mental health: 44% of high school youth feel sad and hopeless, there are 5240 suicide attempts each day in this country, 45% of trans youth have considered taking their lives.  His mission is to bring the conversation into the open because, “talking about mental health encourages people to get help and heal.”  

Active listening is a basic skill for all who hold pastoral roles and Eaton offered helpful tools for checking in and offering support.  He suggested going beyond the generic question of "How are you?" and instead using a rating.  “On a scale of one to ten, how are you doing today?”  If someone names that they are struggling, follow up with, “How can I support you right now?”

Avoiding the topic or ignoring signals can make a person feel more alone. Openness to conversation can be a lifeline.  Obviously, it is important for clergy, faith formation leaders and youth workers to observe boundaries and follow safe church guidelines.  This means transparency of communication and referring youth to medical professionals. GET HELP by calling 988, the suicide and crisis lifeline.
In the faith community, we offer programs and activities that help youth experience wholeness and wellness.  We  seek to nurture healthy relationships and we share a message of hope.  One way is to use adaptations of the Daily Examen (highs and lows/ roses, buds, and thorns) as a way remember the promise that God is always present. Invite youth to review the day, and reflect on ups and downs, and notice where the spirit was at work.  Another is to engage in a variety of spiritual practices that support mental health.  These might include a daily gratitude practice, journaling, physical exercise, and opportunities to create or see beauty.  Sam Eaton lifted up the healing power of volunteering and serving others.  

Our efforts to to create beloved community have profound impact and this mirrors the recent comments from Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General on  responding to loneliness. 

“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives.”

There are a wealth of resources available through the UCC Mental Health Network including materials for  Mental Health Sunday on May 21.
For those who work with youth, Rev. Sarah Griffith Lund has two excellent books:  Blessed Youth: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness with Children and Teens and Blessed Youth Survival Guide.

Our Southern New England Conference and many local churches are in the process of exploring WISE standing: Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged.  For more information, contact Debbie Ringen, SNEUCC Minster for Health and Wellness.  Read her recent blog on Mental Health Month.
NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) has chapters in most states and excellent tools for support, advocacy, education. 

May we find ways to listen carefully to one another, to speak out about mental illness, and remind others, (as Sam would say) that there is always hope!


debby kirk.jpg
Debby D. Kirk

Debby Kirk serves as leader of the staff team that provides resources for the work of nurturing disciples of all ages in the local church. Her area of focus is youth ministry. Contact her for:  Faith Formation Communities of Practice Confirmation ...

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