The Church often treats "the least of these" poorly. Persons with mental disorders are no exception. From ancient times to today, there are religious organizations who believe mental illness is a demonic possession or a punishment from God. They also believe that those with mental illness need to pray harder or get a "right" relationship with God. Persons who take their own lives are denied church funerals and burials. Even in congregations that acknowledge mental illness as a health issue, there is discomfort in talking about mental health issues.
Society also has not treated persons with mental illness well. Societal beliefs include that mental illness is a character flaw or caused by poor parenting. This stigmatizes the individuals and their families. Some laws allow the government to seize the property and assets of people who take their own lives. The phrase "committed suicide" was used to support these laws. The state psychiatric hospitals (circa 1870-present) are often underfunded and understaffed. The 1963 Community Mental Health Act allowed only those persons who were a threat to themselves or others to remain in the state facilities. The rest moved back into communities ill-prepared to care for them. Some moved from state hospital to state prison.
Currently, the media and some of our politicians are associating mental health issues with violence. Reports on mass shootings by white persons always talk about the person’s mental health. This is a grave disservice to persons with mental disorders.
What can we, as individuals and as people of God, do? Here are some ideas:
1) Educate yourself about mental health disorders. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and May 10 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Recommended websites include nami.org, mhn-ucc.blogspot.com, mentalhealthmn.org
2) Parkway can take steps to become a UCC WISE congregation - Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged for Mental Health
3) Change your language and call out others for their language. Persons with mental disorders are not crazies or lunatics, and people who take their own lives do not "commit" suicide.
4) Contact your representatives and urge them to support parity in health insurance, and mental health evaluations for children and youth.
5) Share your story. How have you or your family been affected by mental health issues?
As we learn about the UCC’s 3 Great Loves, let us purposely include persons with mental disorders in our Love of Neighbor and Love of Children.