Report on Big Mental Health Day, 10th October 2015, by Julian Wood
Programme of the day: http://www.mindandsoul.info/Publisher/File.aspx?ID=158979
I very much enjoyed attending this day for the Mental Wellbeing Concern. I was nervous beforehand that the evangelical Christian groups organising the day would make the material and discussions difficult to stomach as a Quaker.
I was wrong about it. The message from the whole day was that people in church communities have a clear and caring understanding of mental health. Rob Waller started off the day by saying that every one of the 500-plus attendees probably have experienced mental ill-health or know someone intimately who has. All the main speakers spoke of their own struggles with mental health. They also stressed that all Christians are struggling with their own mental and emotional health.
I attended an interesting session on Pastoral Care, i.e. how to support people in Christian communities with mental health issues. It was stressed that mental health issues are in many ways like physical health issues. They may be short-term or long-term, acute or less acute, and permanently damaging or not. Most importantly, Christians experiencing mental ill-health should be encouraged to take medication, just as those with physical illnesses would.
I was greatly encouraged by the people I met in the breaks, too. Many were evangelical Christians, with a strong Bible-based faith, yet cared deeply for their fellow Christians (and non-Christians!). There were many mental health professionals who showed a clear passion for translating their practical training into better practice, and finding a way to bring their faith into their work without having to convert or force Christianity on anyone.
A final message from the day was that we can all help those in distress. We need not be qualified to do this. People with mental health issues want to be accepted for who they are and how they are feeling. They want to be part of society, and church can play a central role in their recovery. They want to contribute as well as be helped. They need to be allowed to look after themselves as a top priority. Christianity can be part of the solution, and we as Christians have a lot to add to the debate around mental health, as well as plenty of practical action which will help. And in many ways, we are already doing this.