In the lead up to the launch of Livability’s Live Well Together, the new workshop to explore mental health, we spoke to Katharine Welby- Roberts, author and mental health advocate. Katherine talks about what is changing in church responses to mental health and where the barriers still exists, as well as exploring what unique gifts churches have to offer to help grow communities that can thrive.
For me, it’s a simple Christ centred- call to love one another.
There is less fear in engaging with the topic. Now, there’s so much talk about it, whether in the workplace, or concerning family and in health services. I think this has made people realise they just need to start somewhere. They may not be sure what the first step is, but there’s definitely more willingness to engage and respond. Whilst we have a long way to go, I’m also hearing fewer stories of badly handled situations in church, too. My sense is that as we’re becoming aware that these issues are bigger than we knew or understood, and that having a mental health problem is not weakness.
Those in church who consistently engage in mental health topics have often had an experience themselves, or are close to someone who has. I definitely see a willingness for church leaders to respond, but they’ve got a lot on their plate. So change often comes through grassroots activity, with positive response from the leaders. My encouragement to leaders would be to remember that everyone has mental health and wellbeing. The fact is that you will already be dealing with it in your congregation, and any time a pastoral issue comes up there will be an element of this. Everything you do in your church will engage with people’s mental health, whether worship or preaching, in how you lead and empower. So if you’re already doing this, let’s make sure we can find a way to engage with it helpfully and safely.
If we’re thinking ‘us and them’ we think of mental health as something that happens when we’re ill, rather than looking after our own wellbeing, and that can be a barrier. We can also be quite set in our thinking, so we need opportunities to explore our theology and allow it to be challenged. There can be some toxic views which equate somebody’s poor mental health with being sinful. Yet the whole Bible shares stories of people of faith who have done extraordinary things yet often experiencing great suffering and mental distress. After all Elijah had done, he reached a stage where he wanted to die, yet God reached for him and cared for him in his distress. Jesus himself begged God to relieve his suffering, and yet this was not equated with sin. We need to challenge these unhelpful views and ask who they’re serving.
If we consider what we are called to be as a community, we have to do it as a whole, because otherwise we neglect what it means to be human- to be connected. And the community is able to offer many different things, whether it’s a safe place to share, or whether we draw on each other’s expertise. We’ll only be able to do that if we commit to doing it together. Apart from anything else, when people’s mental health is deteriorating, the most obvious aid in that situation is community.
Change won’t happen if you just have experts. We need expertise, it’s vital, but we can’t shift the responsibility onto those in our communities who have professional skills. Whether it’s an experience of ongoing stress, or something more complex- we all can respond more effectively to those of us who may be struggling. If we can only see that we all have mental health we will also see we have a responsibility to support each other in that. For me, it’s a simple Christ- centred call to love one another. The best of church is walking alongside one another in the hardest of times and the best of times; mourning when people mourn and celebrating when people are celebrate. If that isn’t engaging with our mental health I don’t know what is.
[thrive_link color=’orange’ link=’https://livability.org.uk/resources/live-well-together/’ target=’_self’ size=’medium’ align=’aligncenter’]More information on Live Well Together[/thrive_link]
[thrive_link color=’orange’ link=’https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thought-There-Would-Be-Cake/dp/028107576X/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8′ target=’_self’ size=’medium’ align=’aligncenter’]Check out Katherine’s reflections on mental health and church[/thrive_link]