How often to we say ‘I’m fine’ and give the big ‘thumbs up’, when the reality could be very different? How supported do people feel in being able to share their experiences of mental health? During mental health awareness week, Livability explores how churches can be a place to move beyond awareness around mental health, to create a culture of real conversation.
In recent years, there has been a significant shift in society, seeing far greater awareness for mental health. For people living with mental illness, it’s important that this continues to grow beyond a place of ‘understanding of the issues’; to creating a genuine culture in which people living with mental illness have support to have a real conversation.
Churches and other faith communities can play a vital role in creating space for people to be more open about mental illness. At Livability we are proud to be building a network with a number of churches that are developing creative responses to mental illness within their communities.
One in four people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. This is as true for those in the church as anyone else. Being a Christian does not make a person immune to mental health problems. Just like physical injuries and diseases, mental ill health can affect anyone.
Whilst churches cannot replace the role of professional and medical advisors, they can do much to create a place of welcome, support and real conversation. Helping people to feel they can move beyond the polite response of ‘I’m fine’, to being able to be more open about the support they may need.
The church is called to care not just for those who are currently suffering from mental illness, but to see unity in the body as a whole. Paul reflects this unity in 1 Corinthians 12:26 (‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together).
So what does it take to create such a culture? Busting the myths is one of the first places to start. It’s easy to make assumptions about people’s experiences of mental health. There are certainly a lot of misconceptions and myths that we need to challenge in ourselves and our communities.
Myth: Mental health problems are very rare.
Fact: 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
Myth: People with mental illness aren’t able to work.
Fact: We probably all work with someone experiencing a mental health problem.
Myth: Young people just go through ups and downs as part of puberty, it’s nothing.
Fact: 1 in 10 young people will experience a significant mental health problem.
Myth: People with mental health illnesses are usually violent and unpredictable.
Fact: People with a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence.
Myth: People with mental health problems don’t experience discrimination
Fact: 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination.
Myth: It’s easy for young people to talk to friends about their feelings.
Fact: Nearly three in four young people fear the reactions of friends when they talk about their mental health problems.
Churches are communities that connect with a wide range of people, age groups and experiences and are all too aware that these ‘facts’ are going to be represented in the lives of the people sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning.
To support churches take the mental health conversation forward in their community, Livability has a number of resources and training opportunities for churches. Launched on Blue Monday in January, our recent resource, ‘Lifting the Lid’ has been created to provide some Biblical responses to mental health.
The guide provides a positive route to talk about these key issues. Using the resource offers us all a chance to go beyond the culture of saying ‘I’m fine’ when the opposite may be true. Instead, together -we can help our churches become places where ‘ it is fine not to be fine.’