Faith and Mental Illness: Mental Health Sunday, May 16, 2021

Faith and Mental Illness: Mental Health Sunday, May 16, 2021

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Mental health conditions are on the rise. Before the pandemic it was reported that one in five adults in the US experienced a mental health condition. Now researchers believe that number to be at least two in five!

The grief, trauma and isolation of the pandemic have increased the need for mental healthcare and highlighted the challenges of the mental healthcare system. People who seek help often are unable to find a provider. Many fear stigma, feeling they should be able to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps and keep going.” In populations of color the stigma is even greater. 

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities reports the stereotype that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders  are “academically gifted and successful,” increases stigma leading to suicide as the top cause of death for AAPI youth 12 – 19 years old.  We can be part of the solution to promote awareness and reduce stigma and fear that surrounds mental illness. We can work to prevent suicide by becoming informed and making it okay to not be okay. 
 
During the months of May through July many national organizations work to raise awareness to end the stigma of mental illness. Here are examples of organizations with resources specific to faith communities:
 
Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund, United Church of Christ Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice wrote in a recent blog that, “As the Church, we can proclaim the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: there is no shame in being who we are, no matter what our mental health status might be on any given day, because we are created in the image of God and God loves us.” This is the message we are called to share as a community of faith. We are called to embrace all people no matter what mental health challenges they are facing. Mental illness is just that, an illness like diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

The UCC Mental Health Network offers worship resources to recognize Mental Health Sunday, May 16, 2021. The theme this year is Radical Belonging, and it includes liturgies and resources you can use. Another resource to help congregations intentionally welcome those with mental health challenges is the WISE program.  WISE means Welcoming, Supportive, Inclusive and Engaged - isn’t this the way Jesus leads us? Members of the UCC WISE Team will help your congregation through the process of becoming WISE.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI, will continue their campaign You are Not Alone to, “focus on the healing value of connecting in safe ways, prioritizing mental health, and acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay.” NAMI has produced an event guide You Are Not Alone that includes links to ideas, blogs, and a docuseries of short videos, Strength Over Silence: Stories of Courage, Culture And Community, in which people who identify as African American, Asian American Pacific Islander, and LGBTQ share their real-life experiences with mental illness.
 
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention will launch the National Weekend of Prayer for Faith, Hope, & Life  May 14 – 16, 2021. This campaign offers prayer tools and sample social media posts. As people and communities of faith, we have the power to get the message out to prevent suicide. A free resource is available for clergy, Suicide Prevention Competencies for Faith Leaders: Supporting Life Before, During, and After a Suicidal Crisis. The competencies outline the practices that prepare a clergy person for effective support in the event of a suicide.
 
I pray you find these resources useful. It will take all of us to reduce the stigma of mental illness. With one in five or more than two in five adults suffering, many in silence, it is likely that we know of someone with a mental health condition or struggle with a condition of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or substance use disorder. My family has experienced first-hand the challenges and barriers to treatment of mental illness. So please join me, use the resources offered to speak from the pulpit and in your newsletters and social media. Welcome all who are struggling into a WISE space.
 
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you... By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one an- other. (John 13: 34 -35)

Author

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Deborah Ringen

Deborah Ringen is the Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.

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