New resources will help Uniting Churches to create safe spaces to talk about mental health. Dianne Jensen reports.
The most powerful conversations are often the hardest to begin, and Synod research officer Sue Hutchinson understands that mental health is a confronting topic for church communities.
Sue has coordinated the new Called to care suite of mental health resources for Uniting Church congregations in response to a request by the 31st Synod in 2014. The information booklet, prayer and liturgy resources and Bible study were launched in October in time for the Mental Health Day of Prayer on 11 October and are available online.
“Mental health has been a no-go area for the majority of church communities of all denominations,” says Sue. “People experiencing mental health issues, either first-hand or as carers orsupporters, have had many life experiences that tell them that the community views mental illness as scary, funny, and something ‘other people’ experience.”
Breaking down the stigma starts with honest conversations about our preconceptions and fears, she adds, and the Bible study is a key component of the process.
“There is much history surrounding the church and mental illness. There are some attitudes and beliefs that need to be challenged and addressed through theological discussion; for example that mental illness is caused by demonic possession, is a punishment for sin, or that mental illness reflects a spiritual weakness or lack of faith.”
The Bible study was trialled at the Mudgeeraba Uniting Church weekly Connect group. Facilitator Peter Hinze says that the topic elicited a good response, with 100 per cent participation on the night and the group eventually running out of time for discussion.
“It was great to have a resource to start the conversation, and that’s all we needed. We had good, honest and open interaction, with some people sharing their own experience. We learned that it is easy to give advice but often more important to take time to listen, to be respectful,” says Peter. “It was very challenging and educational!”
Sue Hutchinson believes that faith communities can lead the way in creating safe spaces to talk about mental illness.
“These resources help us to open up conversations about mental health, to see that we are not alone, and that helps to encourage and strengthen us as we walk on together as people of faith.”
The Called to Care Bible study and other resources are available for free download. For more information visit ucaqld.com.au/calledtocare