Scottish Mental Health Week takes place in October each year. It’s an opportunity to listen to those experiencing mental ill-health, and also those close to them. It’s an opportunity, among other things, to take the mystery out of offering support to someone with a mental health issue.
Many people are ashamed to talk about mental health problems. At other times, those with mental health problems are the subject of cruel “humour”. Some of our major retailers have recently been rightly criticised for selling “mental patient fancy dress costume” and “psycho ward” fancy dress outfits, which perpetuated stigmatisation of people with mental health issues.
It is clear that the churches haven’t always got it right in relation to mental health issues. Along with other churches, the Church of Scotland has been trying to “up its game” in relation to those who face mental health problems, encouraging, for example, congregations to consider how they might become “mental health friendly churches”.
Although a lot has been written about spirituality and mental health, most of it is unintelligible to the average person. An interesting and potentially useful book which was published recently was “Swimming Pigeons”, written by Rev Lorna Murray, a mental health Chaplain who is also a Methodist Minister. This book uses personal stories to start each chapter, moving on to give some background, raises some points for discussion and then encourages reflection. It illustrates practically how the church and Christian communities can help people to be themselves and release what they have to offer. It shows what can happen when a person can truly see their identity as “in Christ” rather than based on how other people see or value them. It humbles us by showing what we “able bodied and sane” people so often get wrong.
During Mental Health week, the good folks at “see me…”, Scotland’s national campaign to end stigma and discrimination of mental ill-health, try to encourage staff teams or groups of people to come together for a cup of tea and to talk about mental health and wellbeing. They hope that by talking openly about mental health, just in general terms, it will be easier to be open when someone may be experiencing mental ill-health. Why not try that in your church or your work this week?