What the Faithful Can Do - Section 4
One in every four families in the United States copes with a mental disorder.
While there is a wide range of disability, many individuals can function as productive members of society…with a little help.
Within their capacities, people living with a mental illness want what we all want: independence, a sense of belonging, self-esteem. Limited resources put many of the things we take for granted out of reach. Simple practicalities can pose enormous problems. Public aid can’t stretch far enough.
That’s where we come in.
Individuals, small groups, or the congregation as a whole can significantly improve lives with simple Acts of Grace.
A survey of residents in a program that prepares people managing a mental illness for independent living produced the following suggestions.
- Awareness: Resolve to educate ourselves to the facts of mental illness, not the myths.
--The National Alliance on Mental Illness of DuPage County (NAMI DuPage) can help through its web site, Speaker’s Bureau, and a lending library of books and videos relating to mental illness.
--"In Our Own Voice," NAMI’s powerful outreach program, features a video and discussion between a trained volunteer successfully managing a mental illness and the audience.
The program is presented on site, by invitation, to schools, churches, temples, synagogues, civic organizations, businesses and law enforcement.
--Schedule a NAMI presentation for your congregation.
--Become a NAMI member and receive the newsletter.
- Consistency: no matter how small the commitment, schedule it and stick to it. People are counting on you.
- Transportation: regular, ongoing transportation is the greatest need. Public transportation doesn’t go everywhere people need to go. Even discounted bus or cab fares are a financial strain. For those managing mental illness, mobility determines possibility.
--life skills classes and job training
-- part time jobs
--shopping, pharmacy, barbershop, bank
--Counseling and therapy for a mental illness is best left to professionals.
--Religious instruction, guidance in social standards and ethics are appropriate.
--Many people living with psychological illness are devout, but have no regular access to religious services and instruction. Transportation is key.
--Group Bible Studies geared to their concerns and abilities.
--Participation in church or temple ceremonies and projects. Members of the congregation living with a mental disorder can and want to contribute.
--Include them in your prayers.
-- Good grooming is essential for self respect and crucial to successful employment. Church members can teach, make suggestions, encourage and inspire. A little financial help can make a big difference.
-- Good resale and donated clothing is available --- but a shave and a haircut may not be affordable. Laundry facilities are expensive. Sometimes the choice is food or clean clothes.
--Often, if a person is unkempt, lack of funds, not preference, may be the cause.
--Only the most basic dental care is covered by public insurance. There are no crowns or caps. Without personal resources, the cure for a tooth ache is to pull the tooth. Confidence and smiles suffer.
--Makeup sessions, styling tips and shopping companions enhance the spirit as well as the appearance.
- repairs and self reliance: from sewing on a button to an auto tune up, people with special needs often require help they cannot find, or cannot afford.
--Instruction and practice in skills such as mending, hanging pictures, balancing a checkbook, making a meat loaf, sorting laundry, checking fluid levels in an auto, organizing living space.
--Donated auto service, bicycle repairs, computer help, carpet cleaning, alterations, tax preparation, shoe repair.
--For those managing a mental illness, a car often is a shared resource, a lifeline for more than just the owner.
Example: one 15-year old auto gets its owner--and six fellow program participants - to various medical appointments, job interviews, AA meetings, physical therapy, shopping, Social Service agencies, hospital visits, food pantries and summer concerts.
-- Not one location is accessible by bus or on foot.
-- Gasoline is a shared expense. But faulty brakes, unpaid insurance or registration fees will severely curtail several lives.
- Activities: Too many people living with a psychiatric disorder are under exercised, under inspired, and underestimated. Too many spend their time watching television and eating junk food for lack of recreation that is free or minimal charge, close to home, with transportation provided.
--Weekly or bi-weekly baseball, volleyball, badminton, or Frisbee games on church grounds or public parks with donated equipment and, perhaps, team shirts. Belonging to a team is an opportunity to make friends, build confidence, exercise and have fun.
--Games nights with board games like Monopoly, Sorry, checkers or chess. Non-gambling Bingo or Uno tournaments, with popcorn, lemonade and small, useful prizes such as a disposable camera, or certificates for a cup of coffee or a video.
--Winter nights building snowmen, sledding, Christmas caroling and sharing hot chocolate.
--Bible Study and discussion, a church choir of their own, or the opportunity to join an existing choir.
--Poetry readings, a book or video group, model plane or model car club.
-- Art projects such as drawing, collage, mosaics, scrap books.
-- Knitting, embroidery, or needlepoint circle, with instruction.
--Music or singing lessons, an acting troupe, a chorus or a band.
Music is a therapeutic common denominator among those diagnosed with a mental illness. Many have impressive creative skills. One residential group includes a pianist, several guitarists, singers, a bona fide Scrabble champion and a chess master.
- Cash Grants: giving money outright to individuals makes some donors uncomfortable. But consider the following:
--Government disability payments often are the only source of income.
--The average stipend ranges from $500 to $800 a month. Even subsidized rents average $230 to $380 a month per person.
--Utilities, prescription co-pays, laundry, and bus fare leave little to spend on every day items such as stamps, writing materials, tape, batteries, light bulbs, greeting cards, gift wrap, or newspapers.
--You can’t buy toothpaste, deodorant, first aid kits, shampoo, or feminine products with food stamps.
--Food stamps won’t cover non-food items such as cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, mops, brooms, insect repellant, sunscreen, band aids, laundry soap, coffee filters, trash bags.
--One time grants (not loans) to cover a critical bill: utilities, auto insurance, or repair, non-subsidized tuition or medical cost, storage fee, bus or train passes.
--A grant lifts a burden; a loan adds an obligation.
--Coupons or gift cards for gasoline or stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Dollar Stores are an excellent alternative to cash.
- Employment: Most people coping with a mental illness are able and eager to work part-time. Many have unexpected skills. Transportation is an issue, so walkable neighborhood locations or an easy bus commute is preferred. Some have minor physical limitations easily accommodated with small adjustments. (Ex: a stool for a cashier who might have trouble standing all day.)
Church members with local businesses: focus on part-time or occasional opportunities to employ a neighbor with a psychiatric disorder.
--Have faith that doing so serves God, your community, and the individual.
--Suggestions: inside and outside maintenance, stocking, cashiering, answering phones, packaging, food service, typing and filing, inventory, distributing flyers, greeting customers, carrying purchases to the car, holiday decorating, animal care, pre-school assistant or playground monitor, clerk, customer service, handyman, mechanic.
Church families: yard work, cleaning out attics, basements and garages, pet walking, party help, washing windows, car washing, holiday decorating, mother’s helper, snow clearance, handyman.
At Church or Temple: spring cleaning, handyman, filling pamphlet displays and holy water fonts, distributing prayer books, passing out choir music, setting up and striking tables and chairs for special events, stuffing and stamping envelopes.
Opportunities are legion. What’s needed is the talent and commitment of willing people of good heart. Where better than in church can those living with a mental illness find the acceptance, companionship, and blessings that signify the presence of God in all our lives?
On behalf of those of us coping daily with a mental disorder, Thank You!
Prepared by Consumer Tess Halle for