Church Conversation

Mental Health (MH) Discipleship. (November 2023)

Does church look caring to the outsider? How do we care on the inside?

Do we offer to help publicly and attractively to show that we care? Should we? Significant MH support is often hidden.

Let’s give MH sufferers a label and put them in a separated support group. We’ll call it, “Snap yourself out of it and give yourself a shake.” No! We’re church. We’ll call it, “Suffering seasons of judgment” or “All in God’s timing” or “God answers the prayer of the faithful.” Don’t worry, they can’t blame our prayers. They’re the ones with the problem.

Seriously. Sensitive support groups can, and do, help enormously.

Sufferers often ‘get it’ and understand one another in waves of significance. I find these hard to explain but know very quickly when people understand, trust and connect.

It’s perhaps a little harder to help the wider church community gain their confidence to provide valuable 1-1 support. We need space and a place for conversations to be kept private. Unless confidentiality is unsafe.

There is a diverse range of need. An empathetic, mindfully aware, environment is valuable. The whole of church needs support to safely serve sufferers sensitively. That’s 20-30% of the community to serve continually.

People have confided in me post-accident. Like never before. Almost weekly. Some serious, with suicide planed. One week I heard this from two different strangers whilst walking the dog. After my time in hospital, I was oddly unshocked. It felt normal, too normal, until later. Why didn’t people open-up like this before my accident?

I wanted to know what to say. I attended a face-to-face Mental Health First Aid England course and have since completed online training from two other national providers.

Beyond signposting support, there is no simple formula of what to say. Don’t judge. Use open questions and ears more than mouth. Don’t wait for a crisis. Listen and learn, before it’s too late.

I believe there are things to learn not to say in a Christian church context. But we all make mistakes. Imperfect conversation is better than non-existent conversation. Talking about suicide does not increase the risk, but may signpost support.

Is suicide a sin? Do MH problems reveal lack of faith?
Are such questions loving or helpful?

SIN is a stigma mentioned by St John Ambulance in their suicide and empathy module.  FAITH is mentioned by MIND in their conversations in the community training.

Religion was one of three discussions disallowed during my MH support at Andy’s Man Club where otherwise #itsokaytotalk.

I don’t remember seeing church in any list of places offering MH support. Is it even OK to talk about MH in church? Suicide beyond Judas? Too depressing? Jesus spent more time with the needy than the elite. The disciples needed training too.

Expectations of church might be unreasonably high, but church can do better. At least as well as the secular. Surely. Christian faith adds a dimension that is complex. I’ve had feedback from many, who like me, have been hurt.

Some spiritual soundbites cause concern and confusion.

Christian understanding of scripture is diverse, but love is for all. We should improve our awareness for the sake of our neighbours. God often works for us, by working with us. He wants partners, not puppets.

Mental Health training for conversations in the community, is free from Mind and SAMH.

Click here for the training

A course of small units. Time well spent. It took me a few hours, but I need to stop and take walks. Make lists, coffee and notes. Breaks are built in.

It mentions faith and disability issues I could relate to, personally and powerfully. MH support in action on video clips brought tears to my eyes.

I’ve also learned about MH from St John Ambulance. Nobody knows everything, or everyone. Being calm, caring, non-judgmental and available is key. We can’t fix everything. But we can help.

There’s personal development and growth through empathetic connection with others. Boundaries to set too. Our own MH is affected, and should be protected. Self-care activities differ. There are always reasons to live.

For me exercise in nature helps. Reflections for resilience. Writing to organise thinking and recall. Periods with family in manageable pockets of awake time.

Church community conversations and contexts…

Substantial and reliable information is out there for greater awareness. You don’t need a qualification to support. Be faithfully aware and prepared to help. By preparing.

I know enough to know; I don’t know enough. But we can still be there for others.

A long obedience in the same direction.
(Peterson – ‘The Message’ translator.)

Life is more than high points.
I’ve been forced to slow down and enjoy where I am.

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