Bridging the Gap Between Secular and Spiritual: Mental Illness & Faith
“At the end of a service I ask everyone to rise if they or someone they love lives with a mental illness, and almost everyone stands,” said Barbara F. Meyers, a Unitarian minister during the NAMI FaithNet panel.
Three distinguished panelists led a session at the 2015 NAMI National Convention in San Francisco discussing how to connect faith communities into the mental health space, and how spirituality can be an important aspect of the recovery process.
Rev. Meyers’ ministry, the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Freemont, Calif., focuses on mental health issues with the goal of bringing together congregations, health care providers and faith communities. She has been the leader of four initiatives in order to make this happen: Creating a program of support workshops for people living with mental illness and their families, starting a counseling program centered on spirituality integrated psychotherapy, producing Mental Health Matters, a public television program and creating a video series about people recovering from mental health issues.
Prior to becoming ordained, Rev. Meyers spent 25 years as a computer programmer. She decided to become a minister after her religion helped her through her own experience living with depression.
Rev. Meyers’ initiatives are open to all faiths and attempt to bring the different congregations together. “What keeps me going are the people whose faith is not respected during their healing process and trying to find a place that respects all faiths.”
As a man living with schizoaffective disorder/bipolar type, the second panelist, Danny Gibbs, is a shining example of how faith may help someone living with a mental illness. According to him, “the most important aspect of recovery is faith. I cannot separate recovery and faith.”
Having the experience of being accepted by a congregation who understood that he was struggling gave Danny the strength he needed to address his problems. “That’s what the faith community does--it supports you and walks with you through your recovery.”
Danny now devotes his life to helping youth living with mental illness and using his lived experience as a beacon of hope. He does this by working for the Orange County Department of Mental Health, serving as a NAMI Peer-to-Peer mentor and through his involvement with NAMI FaithNet.
The last panelist, Sr. Nancy Clare Kehoe, RSCJ, PhD, is a respected psychologist and a part-time Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. She has helped many community members living with mental illness through her efforts such as facilitating support groups and treatment programs, producing a video series entitled Conversations on Religion & Mental Illness and writing the book, Wrestling With Our Inner Angels.
Nancy explains that in order to “bridge the gap” between mental illness and faith, faith leaders must understand more about mental illness and mental health professionals must feel more comfortable in exploring a person’s spirituality. “We need to bridge the gap between the secular and the spiritual within ourselves.”
Visit the NAMI website for more on the role faith and spirituality may play in a person’s recovery journey. Also, check the website in the fall for expanded website resources targeted to helping inspire caring, accepting faith communities.
NAMI FaithNet is a network of NAMI members and friends dedicated to promoting caring faith communities and promoting the role of faith in recovery for individuals and families affected by mental illness for whom faith is a component of their journey.