A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a colleague who I had not seen for five years. We had a lot of catching up to do as we shared our ministries. He was surprised to learn that I was no longer serving a church, but that I had started a ministry to create resources to help reduce the stigma of mental illness in our faith communities.
There was a pause in our conversation. He said, "I have been struggling with depression for almost a year but haven't told anyone in my congregation."
I related how I kept my illness a secret from my congregation for two years, how my family and I suffered in silence and how sharing my story opened the door to move the community to begin to create a caring congregation.
My colleague was not ready to share his illness, but he wanted to know how to begin to talk about mental illness in his congregation. I suggested that he simply include "persons living with mental illness and their families" in his pastoral prayer next Sunday.
The following Monday I received a call from my colleague saying that, to his amazement, three parishioners had come up to him to share their experiences with serious mental illness. He said, "I didn't think anyone in my congregation had a mental illness."
I encouraged him, when he was comfortable, to share his story with the congregation. I also shared ways that he can begin to educate others about mental illness.
May is Mental Health Month and has provided an opportunity to raise awareness about mental health issues for more than 50 years.
Mental Health America launched Mental Health Week, which eventually became May is Mental Health Month, in 1949. Each May, Americans recognize Mental Health Month with events and activities in communities across the country. The theme for Mental Health Month this year is "Get Connected" to emphasize the important role of social relationships in protecting and improving mental health and building resiliency. Many organizations, including NAMI, engage in efforts to promote Mental Health Month.
There are now designated times in May for groups to raise awareness and advocate for improvements in research, prevention and treatment on specific mental health issues. The first week in May, for example, has been designated as Children's Mental Health Week. But the specific times are not as important as educating about all mental illnesses any time of the year.
Mental Health Ministries is featuring several downloadable resources that may be helpful in your planning. Many of our free print resources are available in Spanish. In addition, these resources are available on the NAMI FaithNet Web site, www.nami.org/faithnet in the resources section.
I pray for the time when individuals and families with a loved one living with a mental illness will be silent no more.
~ Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder