Is the Mental Health Tide Turning?
I was teaching one of our Mind and Soul 'Emotionally Healthy Leader Retreats' recently and was talking about the general picture of mental health activity in our churches. For the last 12 years, I have been cautiously pessimistic, but not now: instead I found myself waxing lyrical about different mental health projects, pioneering events and fabulous people. Even the culture seems to be changing. With that in mind I thought I might post a wholly positive blog! Before you start writing letters of complaint, noting how patchy and regional things are and wondering if I have been on a ‘positive psychology camp’…do not fear. I am the same old faith-filled realist, but I do just think there are genuinely things to be grateful for, that maybe the tide is turning.
I recently read Colossians 4:2 where it says, “Devote yourself to prayer being watchful and thankful.” I realised that Kate, Rob and I have been prayerful and watchful, but I am not sure how much thanksgiving we have exacted. The trouble is, what the task is huge, it can be hard to celebrate the small triumphs. But the triumphs are there if you look for them…
Take tonight for example; I am surfing Instagram and one of the largest churches in Brighton, St Peter’s, has posted a lovely community picture saying, “Your mental health needs constant attention and strengthening. Mental health should not be a taboo or stigmatized. Our church is not just a group of people; it is a family. So, we are in a mess of real life together. If you need help please contact us.”
It may be just one post, but look at the message! When Rob and I started Mind and Soul back in 2005/6 we were praying for a time when churches might share these sort of sentiments publically and here we are! Look at big youth ministry providers like Soul Survivor or Youthscape, both are investing heavily in mental health, running core seminars and main stage teaching sessions on relevant topics. Youthscape have even developed a new youth anxiety resource with Kate Middleton, to help struggling younger people.
End of, 'Quick to Health'
Another positive sign is a weakening in the, ‘quick to health’ narrative that was so prominent in much main-steam Christian media. Church leaders and members appear a lot more integrated in their view around mental health recovery. Not that we have lost sight of the miraculous power of Jesus, but that mental health recovery is seen as a journey that may require both medication, therapy and prayer.
Christian books are also following a similar theme. Patrick Regan’s excellent ‘When Faith Gets Shaken,' Zoe Clark-Coates, 'Saying Goodbye' and Katherine Welby-Roberts, ‘I Thought There Would Be Cake,' being three brilliant examples. It’s not just here either; Christy Wimber and Rick and Kay Warren are all doing incredible things for mental health recovery across the pond.
We are seeing younger people find their voice in the battle against mental health stigma, helping others recover. There is now a vast list of Christian organisations and enterprises that have taken up the challenge posed by mental illness both inside and outside the church. I was totally made when Rachel Newham of Think Twice was invite to a reception at Buckingham Palace for MHAW. Rachel is a MASF associate and was a member of my congregation in Harrow. She is an incredible ambassador for the things we are passionate about and I sense that with people like her involved in the church and mental health, things will just keep getting better.
Busy but better...
It has been a busy year for us at MASF too. Rob Waller rebuilt our website and we have just been nominated for ‘Best Organisation Website’ at the Web Awards so he obviously did something right! Kate has been teaching at all the major Christian festivals and is consulting heavily on youth mental health. I got over my broken back, which was an achievement!
I have also been working at Grenfell these past few month and had the privilege of investing in the mental health recovery of that community. It has been humbling and moving, but it’s also been affirming. We had always hoped the NHS might recognise the value of faith communities in mental health recovery and here we are; working in close collaboration with them. I feel pumped because I sense things are changing, my diary used to be booked with activist meetings, but now its booked with Bishops wanting mental health training for their diocese. The message is out and I feel that God wants us to give thanks on MHAW2017 for all the little triumphs of the year that has been. May they fuel our prayers for so much more.
Thanks for journeying with us. You are precious.