Monthly Archives: March 2011

World Mental Health Day Reflections

I don’t know if you were aware, but there  was World Mental Health day in October. I thought I’d share a talk and reflection I gave at Chenies Baptist Church about the day….

One in Four people have a mental health condition. So, if, as a rough estimate – there are about 60 people here this morning according to that statistic, fifteen people in here will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
It’s a huge statistic. So let’s look a bit closer. One in four of us fail to save money. A poll in America states that One in Four people read no books last year. One in four of us go to the cinema to calm down. One in four people use social networking.
I am one of the four who fails to save money and use social networking sites. I am one of the four who has had a mental health condition in my life.
If you have spoken to me for more than ten minutes, you have probably heard me get on my hobby horse about the stigma that surrounds mental health. It is something I am passionate about. It is something I think the church needs to take more notice of.
We heard last week about our responsibility to care for the poor, it is also our responsibility to care for the sick and troubled. I would really love to see our churches praying more for people with mental health problems, their carers and the services and professionals who help them.
If you would like to know more, feel free to chat to me after the service and/or grab one of the leaflets off me this morning or at this evening’s Engage where we will be looking at patience and with a particular focus on mental health.
Let us pray, Father God. We thank you that you sent your Son so that we can have life, and life to the full. I ask that you bless us with your compassion, and prompt us to take the actions you are calling us into.
I lift up the local services, in Watford, Rickmansworth, Ruislip and the areas around us. I ask that you give the workers a sense of your peace and wisdom as they care for sufferers.
I also ask that you bring your comfort and healing to sufferers and their families. I ask that we, as the Church will be able to demonstrate the love you have for your people.
I ask that we are able to show the love of Christ to those we meet in our schools, workplaces and communities.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The evening’s talk was on patience with a focus on mental health….

My Grandma always used to say “Patience is a virtue, and virtue is a grace, and Grace is a little girl who didn’t wash her face”, to which I would generally reply “But I don’t want to be a little girl who doesn’t wash her face!”
My feelings towards patience haven’t changed much if I’m honest. I like doing things as soon as possible so that I can begin the next project. It’s a good job really, that God doesn’t think like that.
Can you imagine what the world, the church would be like if God wasn’t patient. If he had given up with Jonah or abandoned the Israelites in the desert? Can you imagine what our schools, homes and places of work would look like if we were a little more patient? I think I would have a much easier life if I were a little more patient.
Now, I’m not much of a nature girl but I love the image James uses of a farmer waiting for their crops. The Message puts it like this: “Farmers do it all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong. The Master could arrive at any time.” Seeds, mud and rain are pretty dull (and messy) things ordinarily. But add a little patience, and the creative power of God – you can get enough food to stock a Waitrose!
And yet the patience James is talking about in this passage isn’t just the kind you need when waiting for your birthday to arrive. It’s gut wrenching and agonising. In fact, the english language doesn’t have a word strong enough to convey what James speaks of in verse eleven.
Waiting on God, for his healing or direction, an answer to prayer isn’t easy. It is painful and exhausting. If you are familiar with the story of Moses and the Exodus you may have noticed that Moses never actually gets into the promised land. Forty years of wandering and he died before he ever reached the Promised Land – what a waste of time! And yet, thousands of years later Moses stands in glory in the Promised Land alongside Elijah and the Lord Jesus. That story isn’t a Testament to Moses’ patience; rather it is a testament to God’s faithfulness and mercy that he allowed Moses to stand in the Promised Land next to the Promised Messiah.
For me, patience is something that God speaks to me about again and again. When I was just five, I really wanted to get baptised. I was sure it was what God wanted too. So I spoke to my minister – and to my horror he told me I was too young – in the end I had to wait a whopping eight years until I was baptised the day after my thirteenth birthday! And I have to say, that I can see that the day wouldn’t have been so amazing and the aftermath would have been way too difficult for my five year old self. Easy to say in hindsight, but no matter how many times I am told, and how previous experience has told me that God’s timing is the best timing – I’m still not very good at it.
If you were in the service this morning, you would have heard that today is in fact, World Mental Health Day. When I found this out, I started thinking about how patience is a concept very present in both individual mental health and the mental health of the church. Over the summer I did my vacation placement for university shadowing chaplains working in mental health wards. Some of the people I met with and talked to were very poorly indeed. And not only do those working alongside the patients, sufferers too show tremendous courage and patience in the face of the battles they face each day.
I met some young people who are fighting battles far beyond their years; people just like me and you for whom life has made things very difficult. In my friendship group at school of 5 seventeen year olds – three had mental health problems, but you wouldn’t know, not unless you were told. Normal teenagers, shopping, laughing and doing normal teenagery things. Because mental illness is not being ‘mental’, its not that stereotypical tramp clutching a bottle of vodka, muttering to himself that so many people think it is. It’s real people who hurt and cry, but also laugh and dance.
During the time when I was most unwell, when I was sixteen God showed me his patience and love through the church. It was the people who hugged me as I cried, sent me funny text messages and put up with me when I could do nothing but sit in a daze, letting life wash over me. They put up with me saying sorry constantly and generally loved me. I was lucky enough to never once have been told to ‘get over it’ or ‘pull myself together’, I was never called ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ – but I know people who did get treated very badly by their churches. When I was preparing for my placement I read a book called ‘Spirituality and Mental Health Care’, and I was particularly struck by these words: “Caring for the needs of people living with mental health problems is not an option for the church. Rather it is a primary mark of its identity and faithfulness”. It is part of our call as the church to look after the people who are poorly and in need of compassion.
In John’s gospel, it says that Jesus came to give us life in all its fullness – a verse I think speaks directly to our mental health. We have a God who wants to take care of us, who his infinitely patient with us, a God who rescues us when we fall. He is a God that does not promise us an easy ride, but an exciting, sometimes painful journey and what is more, He promises that we will never be alone.

Psalm 40 Reflection
I waited and waited and waited for God. It hurt. I thought he had forgotten me. When he sought his face, he seemed to be looking the other way.
Finally, he turned to me – his listened to my cries of agony.
He lifted me out of the mess I was in, pulled me right out of the mess of illness, shame and destruction.
He held me up, stood me on a solid rock, making sure I wouldn’t fall back again.
He taught me how to sing his melody, a hymn of praise – because he rescued me.
More and more people are getting caught up in it, glimpsing the mystery, letting God lift them up.
But, don’t hold your love away from me Lord.
I need your truths to keep me going.
When everything just gets too much, and I can hear whispering about what I used to do.
I was overwhelmed with guilt, it felt so dark that I could not see the way through.
I waited for you, Lord.
With a guilt-laden heart that hammered in my chest.
Let us see your compassion, Lord.
Let the world see who you are.
Tell us you won’t abandon us, you won’t give up on us.
I’m a mess without you, but I know you can clean me up.
I waiting Lord, please God – don’t put it off.

Feedback would be greatly appreciated :)

I have a dream

I have a dream that one day people will be able to be as open about their mental health conditions as they are about having the ‘flu. It’s a dream I’ve had for a long time. It’s a dream that I am getting ready to put into action. The best place to begin, is at LST. The best way to begin, is to pray. It’s scary! The idea of making public my dreams, thoughts and story that I have kept so secret for so long.

I recently realised that I couldn’t campaign against mental health stigma when I am still so afraid of being judged about my own condition. I still find myself disguising an ‘episode’ as bad asthma. It is a step I am finally willing to take. Prayers would be appreciated, because it’s scary!

I’m not advocating everyone telling everyone everything about themselves. But being honest about our struggles can give courage and hope to others if we are able to.

I have a dream that by being honest and bold and brave; I will be able to help others feel less shame about their stories.

So, I’m going to start praying, if you can: join me!

National Self-Injury Awareness Day

Tuesday was National Self-Injury Awareness Day, here is a selection of thoughts I shared at a special Mental Health Prayer in conjunction with Social Justice Group.

Rates of self-harm in the UK are among the highest in Europe at 400 per 100,000 per year.(1)

Britain, it seems, is a nation in pain. It is a nation seeking to deal with this pain in increasingly destructive ways. The banner of self harm includes many things, including but not limited to eating disorders, self-injury, excessive alcohol consumption, solvent abuse, drug abuse and overdoses.

National Self-Injury Awareness Day seeks to encourage sufferers to get help and change the perception of those dealing with self-injurers.

Self-Injury is undoubtedly difficult to understand – our bodies have impulses that force us to protect ourselves from pain or danger. When someone we love is hurting themselves, it can be even harder to comprehend the reasons and motives. For the person harming themselves – there can be a whole variety of reasons. Some of the most common reasons are; control or punishment of the body, outward expression of inward agony and as a tool for mood regulation.

One of the most important things for people to know is that self-injury is not a suicide attempt, rather it is an attempt to survive life. The following is some advice compiled from the mental health charities Mind and Rethink:

Defining Self Harm:
Self-harm is a deliberate and intended action designed to cause harm to your own self, it is not a suicide attempt.

Self Harm includes:
scratching, cutting or burning your skin.
poisoning yourself.
hitting yourself against objects.
taking a drug overdose.
swallowing or putting other things inside yourself.

Who self harms?
Any age group, although most believe it to be a problem mainly amongst teens and twenties.
1 in 10 teenagers self harm, with a ratio of female to male is 3:1.
The UK has the highest recorded self harm rate in Europe.

Why do people self harm?
It can trigger a release of endorphins
Routines and self-nurturing – a set way of harming and then caring for themselves after.
It can act as a release from anxiety.

What to do/say…
Don’t display disgust.
Encourage the person to talk.
Encourage the person to seek medical help.
Don’t deal with it alone.
Educate yourself.
Take care of yourself.
Don’t offer ultimatums.

Self harm is scary. It’s scary for the one harming, and it’s scary for the ones trying to help. It is ok that it’s scary. It is ok to face this fear and get alongside the hurting. In the book of Isaiah it says: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” Isa 42:3. God doesn’t destroy the struggling. God does not give up on His hurting people. I’m going to end this post with the words of a hymn that seems to say this far more eloquently than I could:

O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I owe
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O joy that seekest me through pain
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise not in vain
That morn shall tearless be.
George Matheson

 

(1) http://www.mind.org.uk