Learning from Jesus' compassion
I have written this book to raise awareness of the needs of those with mental health issues in the church and to encourage confidence in the church's ability to meet those needs. I became a Christian shortly before becoming mentally ill. I could not imagine the tumultuous journey awaiting me. As I learned to manage Bipolar Disorder I learned to depend on God deeply and I discovered Jesus compassion for all those who experienced mental distress. The response of the church did not always reflect my experience.
This following excerpt is taken from my book, 'Adventures in a Foreign Land'.
" When I was younger I knew little about mental illness, I did not know anyone who suffered from depression. All my information came from newspaper articles telling of mad axe men who had slaughtered innocent victims... This was a foreign world and nothing to do with me. But now, years later I have walked in that foreign land and I have gained a very different perspective than before."
The foreign land I experienced was strange and frightening. Clinging to my new-found faith I set out on the long journey to recovery. Now, years later I have learned how to persevere with medical treatment and learned the power of prayer. I have been blessed by seeing God's love, power and faithfulness bring healing into my life and the life of others.
I learned to find peace in nature and found writing poetry a good way of clarifying my thoughts and accepting my experiences of mental illness. Writing was cathartic, and I gained confidence in being able to record my thoughts in this way.
As I read more about mental health and listened to others in our church who experienced mental distress, I felt a need to reach out to others and to seek God for what he wanted to do through me.
I found two other people with a heart for supporting others with mental health issues and we met regularly to pray. With the support of the church leadership, we began a self-help mental health support group. We structured the group so that it was a safe place to be for vulnerable adults. I was supervised by the mental health professional in our church and we worked to build contacts with the community mental health team and the psychiatric unit in our local hospital, along with mental health organisations in the community. This had the advantage of our group being accepted as part of the overall mental health support for our members, by mental health professionals.
During the twelve years of the life of the group, over sixty people came and received support, not only in mental health, but in their emotional, physical and where appropriate spiritual wellbeing.
We learned so much from this group; that mental distress can be experienced by celebrities, artists, writers, actors, strong willed and determined people. Fame and money and character do not act as a barrier.
People with mental health issues often have a need to talk openly and to be understood without judgement. This can take time and commitment from others. The members were very good at listening to each other, as people who have suffered deeply with mental distress can often offer empathy and encouragement to others who suffer. Many members expressed a profound faith in God, their vulnerability during illness caused them to depend on Him and found Him to be a faithful Father.
Ignorance, fear and stigma surrounding mental health were problems all our members had met with and feeling isolated in church was common. So, we began to raise the profile of mental health so that it was not hidden. We invited leaders of the church to come to the group and be involved in discussion. The group both collectively and as individuals became proactive in the life of the church. We provided volunteer groups in areas of service, wherever it was needed. We led some church services and taught about mental health, and that mental health issues are common, and we shared experiences from the group about what the church could do to offer helpful support. We drew lessons from the Bible of God's acceptance and love of Job, Elijah, David and Solomon, who all suffered with mental health issues and yet were used by God to achieve important things.
Accounts in the Bible of Jesus coming alongside others who were on the fringe of society tell of his understanding and acceptance of them. Jesus was once asked by a leper if he was willing to heal him? Jesus touched him, and he was healed. What a shame shattering moment for the man who people avoided because he was "unclean". What hope for others who have experienced stigma because they have known mental ill health.
How wonderful it would be if we could we follow Jesus in this, and show acceptance, care and love, the gifts we all can have to give to those who live with mental distress.
Lorraine Gibbard, January 2018
'Adventure in a Foreign Land' Published by Instant Apostle available 15th March 2018 from Amazon, Kindle and Christian book shops
Amazon link - https://amzn.to/2J3Fpqe