May is Mental Health Awareness month. Being ill is never fun and is often scary because things are out of control. For many people, mental illness adds more layers of distress. Not being able to think straight, perhaps not knowing what we are doing and not remembering afterwards. Each disorder brings its own challenges.
On top of this there is the stigma. Most of us do not like to admit to having mental health problems. It seems that, every so often, some diagnosis become more acceptable, perhaps almost fashionable and it is easier to talk about things. But then, all too soon we are forced back into our cocoon of silence and a cocoon is the worst place to be when you need help.
It would be good to think we are a Church where we could talk openly about mental health issues but, I have to admit, even I feel reticent. I know, even if you have a diagnosis of a mental health problem, it is still all too easy to judge others. We should be listening and exploring but, because of the way most of us have been brought up that can be hard. I was certainly instilled with a fear of “odd” or “strange” people. People "like that" were dangerous, not to be trusted and to be avoided. If you had any of the same, it is no wonder that we do not want to be thought of us "those sorts of people" who we were taught to avoid at all costs. I am sure a lot of you had different experiences but the whole subject is still wrapped in secrecy and shame.
Perhaps, at Redeemer, we can commit to working towards being a more open community when it comes to Mental Health. I am not inviting, or expecting, a whole load of dumping of problems. We are not a counselling service or therapy group. But we do need to develop a kindness and gentleness to ourselves and each other. Let's aim to find an openness which reflects the openness of Christ who receives us as we are. Labels can be devastating, but, if we let them, they can also open doors to conversation and a deeper understanding of ourselves and those around us.