Do you ever feel like no one understands you? Does it seem as if the minister is always praying for those who have physical struggles and forgets about mental illness?
Feeling lonely and isolated is a challenge, and many people with mental illness face this every day. Where does one go for help and support?
The Hope Conference, held last month in Cobourg, Ont., focused on “Hope and Compassion to help with Mental Illness: At Home, at Church and in the Community.” Speaker Dr. Victor Shepherd from Tyndale University College and Seminary challenged us as a community to share our neighbour’s isolation and take away the social stigmatization. He shared how his community has embraced this concept in concrete ways through providing housing support and emotional support for the mentally ill.
Keynote speaker Amy Simpson, best-selling author and Christianity Today contributor, spoke on how to break the stigma of mental illness. She shared her own heart-breaking experiences. Most of us, when sitting in church, don’t think about mental health but statistics tell us that every family is affected by it to some degree. Amy noted that our society is becoming more accepting of mental illness and offering various supports, but the church seems to be the last place for feeling “safe.” Why is this? Churches should be at the forefront of the movement.
She challenged us to become a church that loves our brothers and sisters in Christ who are hurting from mental illness. In her book “Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission,” Amy shares her life journey with her mother’s schizophrenia. She says “mental illness is a robber. It robs suffering people of at least a small piece of who they are – even during a short-term illness (72).” Through her story, Amy asks us as a church, as friends and as family to “open our arms.”
Pain and healing
Various workshops were held throughout the day. I attended one where family members shared their personal stories, and found that by their openness and sharing their journey both heartbreak and hope become visible. Another workshop focused on strategies for caregivers. Other workshops included Suicide Prevention and Early Intervention Psychosis Workshops, addressing how to develop awareness and support for those struggling with this.
At the beginning of the day we lustily sang together these words:
You are not alone if you are lonely; when you feel afraid, you’re not the only.
We are all the same, in need of mercy. To be forgiven and be free.
It’s all you got to lean on, but thank God it’s all you need!
Next time you know someone struggling with depression, loneliness or other emotional needs related to mental illness, even if you don’t know what to say, visit and bring a casserole. Amy Simpson calls mental illness the “no casserole illness” because we stay away, not knowing what to say. In contrast, physical illnesses or surgeries bring a plethora of casseroles.
Break bread together and shatter the silence of fear by being present. It’s critical for churches to come alongside and understand those suffering from mental illness, taking away the stigma of shame.