Ministry Encourages Open Discussion on Mental Illness

Post a Comment » Written on June 6th, 2008     
Filed under: News
GREENSBORO, NC (June 6, 2008) – After Sheila Brady recently showed a video about how congregations can serve people with mental illnesses, one of the attendees stood to say that what she heard was an answer to prayer. The woman had struggled with depression for more than 30 years, and for the first time, she said she felt comfortable saying so in church.

“It’s such a stigma,” says Brady, a registered nurse who attends Trinity Covenant Church. “Mental illness is this century’s leprosy. People are ashamed to talk about it. They keep it a secret.”

Mental illness is this century’s leprosy.

Brady wants to help break the stigma and bring the discussion into the open. She is starting a ministry for people with mental illnesses and their families, also seeking to educate local congregations. She hopes people will come to understand that mental illness is not a sign of spiritual or moral weakness.

Brady’s understands the struggles of families. In one situation with which she is quite familiar, the husband suffers from depression and extreme OCD, which she says has put a strain on the marriage at times.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, one in every five Americans experiences a mental disorder in any given year, and half of all Americans have such disorders at some time in their lives. Contrary to opinions fostered by the media, most of the individuals are never violent – actually, they are more likely to be victims of crime. Most people with mental illnesses also improve with treatment.

Brady was inspired to begin the ministry after listening to Susan Gregg Schroeder, a United Methodist minister who wrote, In the Shadow of God’s Wings: Grace in the Midst of Depression, a book chronicling her own struggles with depression. Brady is using material from Schroeder’s Mental Health Ministries. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also produces excellent material, she says.

Brady shows videos and invites guest speakers once a month. At the request of her pastor, Marcus Putnam, she is putting together a comprehensive two-year plan. He is planning a series of sermons related to the topic.

This church member is excited to be receiving such strong support from Putnam, who told her that he has known little about how to help people with mental illness. He is not alone. According to NAMI and Schroeder, people with mental illness frequently turn first to their clergy for help, but often are frustrated by the lack of understanding.

Brady is no longer amazed at how many people in churches come up to her to share their stories once they feel it is safe. “It happens all the time.”

She is working to make sure it happens a lot more.

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