EMC Mental Health Initiative Can Assist Your Church
MACGREGOR, Man.—Want to talk about mental health or how to help struggling young people? Then a workshop such as the one held on Sat., April 28, might interest your church.
On April 28 more than 40 people attended a Mental Health Workshop: Promoting Wellness and Helping Youth from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the MacGregor EMC. People came from area EMC churches and beyond EMC circles.
The morning sessions, to which everyone was welcome, focused on Mental Health For All Ages. Dan Dacombe spoke on Youth and Mental Health Issues. He said that rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide among youth motivated the EMC Mental Health Initiative (MHI) to begin.
Peter and Irene Ascough led on Soul Care and Your Mental Health. It focused on self-care toward the prevention of mental illness. The afternoon sessions, restricted to adults, focused on Mental Health and Youth. Heidi Dirks led a session on Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in Youth. In the final session, Strategies to Talk to Youth, small groups discussed various scenarios and their insights were tested against the larger body.
The MHI committee consists of Peter and Irene Ascough (Kleefeld), Irma Janzen (Fort Garry), Dan Dacombe (Heartland), and Heidi Dirks (Aberdeen). All are involved in counselling, pastoral, or nursing ministries. They bring a wealth of experience and training to the discussion.
The initiative is educating through a year-long series in The Messenger and workshops. It serves under the EMC Board of Church Ministries.
To explore holding such a workshop in your church or region, call a member of the MHI committee (check the EMC Yearbook) or contact the EMC national office. To find out Irene and Peter Ascough met, contact them. To learn about “Hilda the B U T ful,” contact MacGregor EMC.
Note: This article is intended to provide general information and is not a substitute for professional assessment and interventions.
What causes mental illness?
In general, mental illnesses are caused when our brain doesn’t work the way it’s meant to. This can be due to a combination of physical factors such as genetics, a physical injury or substance use, or environmental and social factors such as experiencing war, trauma, the stress in our lives, and our access to social supports when we need help.
For example, symptoms of depression may be caused by low levels of serotonin in the brain, a chemical in the brain that carries signals between cells. We don’t fully understand what causes mental illnesses, or why some illnesses seem to run in families even though not every family member develops the illness.
While sin in our life, or sins perpetrated by others, can sometimes contribute to symptoms of a mental illness, mental illnesses are not caused by sin or a lack of faith. For example, an individual may develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after being assaulted, where someone else’s sin impacted their life and they developed a mental illness as a result of the trauma they experienced.
I’ve been feeling sad lately. Am I depressed?
It’s normal to feel sad sometimes. Maybe you have experienced a loss, are in the midst of a life transition, or are feeling isolated from supportive people in your life. Psalm 42 gives voice to feelings of distress in the midst of seeking God, asking “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (verse five). There are many examples of sadness, desperation, and despair in the Psalms.
When a mental health professional talks about depression they are referring to a mental illness that is diagnosed based on criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5). There are different types of depression, but often when people talk about depression they are meaning Major Depressive Disorder. The symptoms listed in the criteria for this diagnosis need to be severe enough to significantly interfere with your daily life. Feeling sad doesn’t necessarily mean that you have depression; it may mean that you need some extra support right now, but you may meet criteria to be diagnosed.
If you are wondering if you have depression, talk to your doctor or a mental health worker. They can help walk you through an assessment, a possible diagnosis, treatment options, and connect you to supports in your life.
Is it okay for Christians to take medication for a mental illness? I’m also afraid about the side effects of medication.
Yes, it’s perfectly okay! As mental illnesses are likely caused by a combination of factors (physical, environmental, and social), medication can be a critical part of treating a mental illness. For example, medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are a commonly prescribed antidepressant, and they work to increase serotonin levels in the brain which lessens the symptoms of depression caused by low levels of serotonin. Just as Christians take medication for physical illnesses such as diabetes and bronchitis, sometimes we take medication for mental illnesses.
If your doctor is recommending medication, ask questions about the benefits and risks of the medication, including what side effects there may be. This will help you make an informed decision about whether you choose to take the medication. If you are already taking medication, don’t change your dose or stop taking the medication without first talking with your doctor. There may also be other treatment options, such as therapy/counselling, that a doctor can recommend.
Can people diagnosed with a mental illness recover from it?
Absolutely! But recovery will look different for each individual person. It may mean that the symptoms of the mental illness mostly go away, or that the individual learns to live a full life with the symptoms still present. Medication and therapy may be an important part of a person’s recovery.
But part of recovery is also finding hope and meaning in life. Christians find hope in God’s love for and offer of salvation, and they may find strength and meaning from spiritual practices such as prayer and reading scripture.
As well, social supports that come with being part of a faith community can be an important part of recovery. In the March 2018 edition of The Messenger, Irene Ascough wrote about how churches can promote positive mental health. These practices are helpful for all people, regardless of whether or not they currently struggle with a mental illness.
If I think someone is thinking about suicide, should I avoid bringing up the topic?
If you’re concerned that someone is thinking about suicide you can directly ask them if they are thinking of hurting or killing themselves. If their answer is “yes,” let them know that you care and make sure that they get help.
If they are in immediate danger, don’t leave them alone, reach out to crisis services (such as a local mental health crisis line) or emergency services (911-EMS, your local hospital emergency room). Look up your local crisis numbers and put them in your phone so you have them available if a crisis comes up.
If you want to be more prepared to respond to someone who is thinking about suicide, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is an excellent two-day training that will give you skills to assess suicide risk and respond to the situation. Living Works (www.livingworks.net) offers training for ASIST and other suicide awareness training programs.
I’m trying to read my Bible and pray more. Why do I still feel anxious?
Spiritual practices including reading scripture and prayer can be an important part of a person’s mental wellness. If practices that have been lifegiving to you in the past are no longer enough to help you cope with feelings anxiety, perhaps some additional wellness practices or mental health interventions are needed.
If reading scripture and prayer is done because you feel pressured or not doing so is making you feel guilty, you could speak to your pastor or a spiritual mentor for encouragement and to explore ways to connect with God.
What’s the difference between a counsellor, psychologist, and psychiatrist?
Counsellors (may also be called a counselling therapist, therapist, psychotherapist) have a range of backgrounds, which may include a master’s or doctorate degree in counselling or a related field. Some Canadian provinces have regulated the counselling profession where practitioners must meet certain requirements in order to be licensed/accredited, but others have no regulation and it is up to consumers to check a counsellor’s education and credentials.
Psychologists have graduate level training in the field of psychology, with a focus on research as well as assessment and practice in treating mental illnesses. In order to work as a psychologist, practitioners must be licensed by their local regulatory body (such as the Psychological Association of Manitoba).
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in mental health, and they are able to prescribe medication. As a medical doctor, they are regulated by their province in the same way as your family doctor. The distinction between these three professionals becomes important when you are looking for specific mental health services, as well as with the cost of services.
Psychiatric services are covered through the health care system, and private insurance plans may cover services from psychologists and/or counsellors. Talk to your doctor or a mental health worker where you live to find out what options you have available to you.
If you would like to see a Christian counsellor or psychologist, ask your pastor for information of clinicians in your area, or look on the websites of professional associations (such as the Professional Association of Christian Counsellors and Psychotherapists).
Heidi Dirks, BEd, MA (counselling), is a member of the EMC’s Mental Health Initiative committee and the Board of Church Ministries. She is part of Aberdeen EMC.
People who live with a mental illness have been my teachers! I have learned a lot about life from what they model and what they say. Almost everything I have learned about how best to support them I have learned from them, and that is what I pass along to you.
However, before we begin with those kinds of tips, let’s think a little bit about love and how that includes treating all people with dignity, respect and sensitivity. As Christians this is our starting place and let’s let 1 Corinthians 13 be our guide.
I know that it is not always easy to treat people with dignity and respect, and this may be even more difficult when a person’s thinking is distorted, delusional, or hallucinated because of an illness. The person may simply not be able to think rationally or logically, and if we have not experienced this ourselves it is hard to understand what that person is going through.
A Willingness to Learn is Essential
First, be willing to learn about mental illnesses. Local mental health services, medical clinics and self-help groups have lots of resources. Articles, podcasts and many other resources are available on the internet. Here are some good places to start:
Second, learn to listen and be willing to learn from the person with the illness. Listen attentively and non-judgementally. I do not know how the other person is feeling and I may not understand. I need to be the learner. I also need to listen to what may be under the words. I need to listen to the tone and observe. I need to be okay to sit silently, to see the tears or to hear a tirade of anger. I need to be ready to listen for a while. It may not be enough to give only half an hour while watching the clock.
Be Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak
Be slow to speak. I must not think I have the answers or that a quick, short, simplistic solution will be helpful. If and when I ask questions they need to reflect back to the person what he or she has said. Or I could ask open-ended questions to encourage them to say more. Comments like, “Tell me a little more about what you just said,” or “You said you were really feeling down” are examples of questions that can encourage further talking.
There may come a time when I encourage someone to find more resources or to try something but that needs to wait until I have really heard and listened. Be careful of the attitude of “You can fix this if you just do this or that.”
There are times when it may be appropriate to divert the direction of the conversation. Continuing to listen to stories and incidents that repeat consistently may not be helpful. Some people can get very emotionally engrossed in talking about what they experience as reality through delusions or hallucinations. Changing the topic to another emotional topic may break the pattern and turn it in another direction.
Tips on Being a Good Friend
One thing I still sometimes forget is that when we meet casually I need to say, “It’s good to see you” rather then saying, “How are you?”
Many people who live with serious mental illnesses have already been disappointed with people who seem to be really good friends for a while and then disappear. They don’t need more of that. However, you may need to pace yourself carefully so as not to over expend and then drop someone when you are exhausted. Agreeing on a next time to meet and putting it into our calendars is often good. In that way we don’t forget, but it’s also a way of setting healthy boundaries.
It is often helpful to gather a small circle of people who will all be part of the person’s life. No one person can meet all my needs, so I should not try to be the person who can meet all the needs of someone else.
Being remembered is important. A quick text to say, “I love you,” or a note saying, “I was thinking of you today,” or (if appropriate), “I am praying for you,” are quick ways of letting the person know that he or she is not forgotten.
Some people would enjoy a party for their birthday or being invited to a Christmas party. Some might prefer a one-on-one visit. It’s easy enough to ask what they prefer.
There are times to take a meal, do the laundry, offer childcare or go to an appointment.
It is also good to invite people to contribute with their gifts. I remember a woman who hand-drew beautiful bulletin covers. I know that was in the pre-computer days, but maybe some people would enjoy hand-drawn bulletin covers in 2018 too. That’s just one idea to start you thinking creatively.
This is very important for Christians. When God seems far away, as sometimes happens when a person has a serious mental illness, some people want us to be praying with them. Others don’t. Some want a comforting Bible verse; some don’t. Let’s never assume that because a person does not want prayer at a certain time that they are not in a solid relationship with God. Maybe their faith is even stronger and more meaningful then mine. Maybe they are tired of platitudes when their prayers are cries and laments. It is appropriate to ask, “Would you appreciate a prayer or a Psalm or would you just prefer to sit in silence or to chat?”
The same caution applies to touch. Do we hug or shake hands? Ask. See what the person wants and go with that. People who have been hurt by touch may pull back if you seek to touch. Others are hungry for physical touch because they hardly ever experience it.
If we seek to be supportive and the person does not seem warm to our friendship or does not reply to a message, let’s not take that too personally. If we have made a mistake or done something unkind we need to apologize, but it may not have been a good day or there was a reason they couldn’t reply. Try again later.
As with any relationships supporting and learning from people who live with a mental illness takes love, time and sensitivity. I already referred to 1 Cor. 13. A metaphor that may be helpful is the one about the body in 1 Cor. 12 where we have the idea of the faith community being one body and all of us significant members of that body. If some part of our body suffers we all suffer. If the whole body functions well and together we have a strong and healthy body.
While this article speaks specifically about supporting people with mental illness, we all need support, sometimes more, sometimes less. Let’s accept the gifts that people with mental illness bring to our community so that indeed we are one body and that people around us recognize us by our love for each other.
Irma Janzen, MEd, MA, has served in education, as the coordinator of MCC Canada’s Mental Health and Disabilities Program, and as a pastor. She is part of Fort Garry EMC.
MACGREGOR, Man.—Want to talk about mental health or how to help struggling young people? Then a workshop on Sat., April 28, co-sponsored by the MacGregor EMC and the EMC Mental Health Initiative 2018, will interest you.
A Mental Health Workshop: Promoting Wellness and Helping Youthwill be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the MacGregor EMC, in MacGregor, Man., 90 minutes west of Winnipeg. The cost for the event is $20 (lunch included). No pre-registration is required.
The morning sessions, to which everyone is welcome, focus on Mental Health For All Ages. Dan Dacombe will speak on Youth and Mental Health Issues, and Peter and Irene Ascough will lead on Soul Care and Your Mental Health. The afternoon sessions, restricted to adults, will focus on Mental Health and Youth. Heidi Dirks will lead a session on Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in Youth and a group discussion will be held on Strategies to Talk to Youth.
This workshop is part of a year-long Mental Health Initiative (MHI) within the Evangelical Mennonite Conference that is focused on promoting mental health. The MHI Committee consists of Peter and Irene Ascough, Irma Janzen, Dan Dacombe, and Heidi Dirks. All are involved in counselling, pastoral, or nursing ministries.
People from no church and all denominations are welcome to attend. For information, call MacGregor EMC at 204-685-2293 or the EMC National Office at 204-326-6401 or see www.macgregoremc.com/events
Note for Church Bulletins
A Mental Health Workshop: Promoting Wellness and Helping Youth will be held on Saturday, April 28, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the MacGregor EMC, in MacGregor, Man., west of Winnipeg. $20 (lunch included). No pre-registration required. Topics include Youth and Mental Health Issues (open to all), Soul Care and Your Mental Health (open to all), Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in Youth (adults only) and a discussion on Strategies to Talk to Youth (adults only). It’s part of a year-long EMC Mental Health Initiative. Everyone welcome. For info, 204-685-2293, 204-326-6401,www.macgregoremc.com/events
Psalm 13 begins with these words, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” We do not know exactly what the Psalmist’s circumstances were when he penned these words, but we do hear the agony, the feelings of God having forgotten him, of God hiding His face from the writer.
What we do know is that many people, maybe including most of us over the roughly 4,000 years since those verses were written, have echoed these words in times of terrible distress when it seemed as if God had either forgotten us or hidden His face from us. It happens often when we pray and pray and pray and pray some more and yet we see no evidence of answers to our prayers or of the changes in the things we are praying about.
Many or maybe all of us have cried these words and some of us are people who are living with serious and long term mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, clinical depression or a variety of other neurological disorders. Then there is another larger group of us who have loved ones, family members, friends, fellow-congregants who have cried those same words because we feel so helpless in walking with our loved ones for whom life is mostly agony and despair. We are not able to help and it just seems as if God is nowhere within calling distance to come and bring us relief. Not even in the days of The Messenger, texting, and all the other wonderful ways in which we communicate today!
How Do We Respond?
How do we as Christians respond both to God and to our community in amid these realities? Do we give up and say God is not doing anything so why believe in Him? Do we reprimand our friends and family members for not believing or even by suggesting that God does not hear because we have sinned? Do we walk away and say we can’t do anything and leave them to whatever happens?
Or are we as believers perhaps in a position to walk alongside and love and to bring a tiny glimpse of hope amid the darkness? Are we able to sit in silence and to listen to their pain? Are we able to hold their hand in the darkness? Are we able to refer them to resources such as medical doctors, therapists, and mobile crisis units at the appropriate times? Are we able go with them to an appointment they don’t have the strength to get to on their own? Are we able to continue to walk with them through the many weeks, months or even years?
This takes a lot of understanding, understanding both of the illness and other issues with which the person may be struggling. This takes leaving our fears with God and asking Him for wisdom as to how best to do this without giving simplistic answers. This includes grace and humility on our part because we probably don’t have helpful answers to give. This takes much prayer and faith that God is working in ways we cannot yet see and of living with hope for that which we do not yet see.
Many of us are not comfortable with things we cannot fix quickly because we are so busy and have many urgent things to do so we don’t want to become involved. Maybe we not want to be too involved because it will take too much effort. Some of us are scared because we feel helpless. Some of us who have a mental illness are even scared to let others know because we fear stigma and rejection or even that we will be told we are weak or don’t have enough faith.
Younger Generation Sees Need
Having heard many stories especially during the 1990’s and early 2000’s when I (Irma) was working with the Mental Health and Disabilities Program for MCC Canada, I was so glad that the younger generation is seeing the ongoing and continuing need for more education and understanding of mental illnesses and how we are able to help. First, by seeking to help early on so many major crises can be stopped before they actually become crises; and second, also because of the ongoing support many people need now and will for years to come.
Where We Are Going
I (Heidi) am privileged to serve as a member of the EMC Board of Church Ministries, and we are excited to be starting a Mental Health Initiative with the support of several members of our EMC churches who are experienced and skilled in the field of mental health. We believe that it is important for churches to talk about mental health and how to support people who are struggling with mental illnesses.
A Need to Talk and Help
The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life, with 8% of adults experiencing major depression. Between 10 and 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness, with 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth experiencing a major depressive episode. These statistics are not meant to create fear, but rather to highlight the need for churches to talk about mental health and help individuals and families access appropriate care.
This need was especially clear to me while at Abundant Springs in May 2017. I was able to attend Abundant Springs as the campus counselor, offering to talk to youth and leaders throughout the weekend, and consulting with leaders when concerns came up about their youth.
Many conversations about mental health were sparked by the well-attended workshops led by Dan Dacombe (Heartland Community Church) entitled Faith and Mental Illness. Feedback from both youth and leaders was very positive, and many leaders asked for more resources to help them support youth who are struggling with mental illnesses.
Mennonite Central Committee has already done much work, as Irma has already described, and EMC churches are already integrating many practices that promote positive mental health. This BCM mental health promotion initiative aims to support churches in the positive practices they already have in place, and to provide information and resources to further develop these positive practices.
A Year-Long Encouragement
Articles exploring different mental health topics will appear in The Messenger in print and online over the next year. Our hope and prayer is that these articles will be an encouragement to those who are in distress, and provide practical information about mental health to support those who are caring for individuals who are struggling.
Irma Janzen, MEd, MA, has served in education, as the coordinator of MCC Canada’s Mental Health and Disabilities Program, and as a pastor. She is part of Fort Garry EMC.
Heidi Dirks, BEd, MA (counseling), serves on the EMC Board of Church Ministries. She is part of Braeside EMC.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference