by Karen Kulm, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Vancouver, WA
Mental illness affects nearly 60 million Americans every year. One in four adults is affected at some point in their lifetime by a severe mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia. In fact, mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
People living with mental illness often feel isolated and alone. They need help, hope and a community that supports them and their family. Recovery is possible with medication and treatment. Faith and spirituality are essential elements of healing and recovery for many, yet many clergy and people of faith feel poorly equipped to provide appropriate support, education and assistance to persons living with mental illness.
The United Church of Christ Mental Health Network has the tools your congregation needs to widen your welcome to include people and families living with mental illness: http://mhn-ucc.blogspot.com/. Resources include a Congregational Toolkit, mental health ministry resources, etc. Another good resource for educating your congregation is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI FaithNet is an information resource and network for NAMI members, clergy and people of faith. http://www.nami.org/faithnet.
Oregon, Idaho and Washington have suicide rates higher than the national average. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Oregonians aged 15-34 and the eighth leading cause for all Oregonians. If you know someone who is struggling with depression, don’t be afraid to reach out to this person. Help and hope are available. 1-800-273-TALK is a national suicide prevention hotline that will connect you to a center in your state. The Trevor Project 1-866-488-7386 is a helpline for LGBTQ youth. 211 info (call 211, text, or website) is a resource and referral site sponsored by United Way and has a wealth of resources.
People with mental illness are our brothers, sisters, neighbors and the person sitting next to us at church. Are we ready to help and support them?