Rev Graham Slaughter, minister for the Leichhardt Patrol in the Presbytery of the Downs, describes his experience with mental health for Queensland Mental Health Week.
As a patrol minister, I regularly visit with people living on properties and in rural communities. Some of the people I visit suffer from a mental illness although this is seldom immediately obvious and might only be revealed during further contact.
When visiting, I try and take an approach that will be appropriate and helpful regardless of people’s circumstances. In many respects it’s as simple, and yet as profound, as seeking to be a good neighbour as advocated by Jesus. In addition to this, visiting people on their properties and in their homes is equivalent to entering onto holy ground and requires a “shoes off” approach. The person and their property deserve the utmost respect.
Since I usually don’t know whether the person I am visiting is experiencing the strain and stresses of rural living, mental illness, or something else, I try and offer them my time and, where appropriate, empathy; and I try to listen more than I speak. This approach is helpful whatever the situation. Choosing not to make judgements about another person’s lifestyle choices is particularly important as judgement can stifle responding with grace. When making return visits, or offering assistance to people, I try not to assume that I know what’s best for them. Allowing the person to set the agenda means that they are the one in charge which, in some circumstances, may be the only power and control they are able to exercise that day. Over time, I’ve learnt that I don’t always have to fix things, and in many cases, the feedback I receive from people is that less has definitely been more.
If I sense that something is not quite right, I do ask the “Are you okay?” question and am prepared for the time and attention for further listening, especially if the answer is “No.” With the exception of very rare occasions, when it appears that a person’s safety may be at risk, observing confidentiality builds trust and opens the way for more meaningful help and ministry into the future. Prayerfully debriefing with God as I’m driving away from one property places people and situations into God’s hands and prepares me to move on further along the road. Rev Graham Slaughter Leichhardt Patrol Presbytery of the Downs
Rev Graham Slaughter
This story originally appeared in Called to care: Thoughts for congregations by the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod in 2015.