Mental Illness Awareness Week is observed Oct. 7-13. This special observance is an opportunity to learn more about serious mental illnesses such as major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Mental illnesses are medical illnesses. One in four adults experiences a mental-health problem in any given year. One in 17 lives with serious, chronic illness.
Mental illness does not just affect the individual; it also affects families, congregations and communities. Clergy often deal with the emotional upheaval in families when a family member suffers from a mental illness.
The good news is that treatment does work and it is important that congregations and clergy are adequately educated about mental illness to provide a caring space for people who are mentally ill.
On average, people living with serious mental illness live 25 years fewer than the rest of the population. One reason is that less than one-third of adults and less than one-half of children with a diagnosed illness receive treatment.
“The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that stigma is a major barrier to people seeking help when they need it, that’s why Mental Illness Awareness Week is so important. We want people to understand mental illness and join a dialogue in our community. The more people know, the better they can help themselves or help their loved ones get the help and support they need.”
An important study, “Health Styles Survey,” conducted by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration in 2006 confirms that myths and perceptions continue to perpetuate unhelpful and damaging attitudes about mental illness. For instance, only about a quarter of young adults believe that a person with mental illness can eventually recover, over 42% of Americans believe that a person with mental illness can not be as successful at work as others.
Startlingly, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority (84%)of Americans believe that people with mental illnesses are not to blame for their conditions, only about one in four (26%) agrees that people are generally caring and sympathetic toward individuals with mental illnesses.
Clearly, there is more to be done in changing public attitudes about mental illness.
When mental health care isn’t available in a community, the results often are lost jobs and careers, broken families, more homelessness, and much more expensive costs for hospital emergency rooms, nursing homes, schools, police and even courts, jails and prisons.
In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week. This special observance is an opportunity to dispel misconceptions, offer factual education and skills to appropriately respond when someone suffers from mental illness.
Local churches can offer candid discussion, highlight the issue in worship and sermons, and provide education in Sunday school and Bible studies.
Because this week is observed by groups and organizations within communities, it is also an opportunity to build relationships with and partner with public health organizations and community groups in your area, such as the local chapter of NAMI, (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill). Together you can make a public witness to raise awareness about mental illness, prevention, treatment and advocate for effective public policy including access to adequate mental health care in your community.
New Social Prinicple
A new Social Principle addressing mental illness was adopted this year by General Conference, the highest policy-setting body of The United Methodist Church. The Social Principle, “Mental Health,” declares, “No person deserves to be stigmatized because of mental illness.”
The rationale for “Mental Health” stated that persons with mental illness and their families have a right to be treated with respect on the basis of common humanity and accurate information. You can read more about the new Social Principle at “Mental Health.”
Caring Community Church
Churches can also follow up with a specific action that will have a positive impact on congregational life by becoming a “Caring Community Church.” This special program is highlighted in United Methodist Resolution #3302 Caring Communities — The United Methodist Mental Illness Network .
Local churches can take specific steps toward being a “Caring Community Church” by
- covenanting to learn more about mental illness;
- making a commitment to foster attitudes of openness, eradicating stigma; and
- offering hospitality to people suffering from mental illness and their families.
You can learn more, visit the General Board of Church & Society website and download the information at How to Become a United Methodist Caring Community.
National Day of Prayer for People with Mental Illness
Another opportunity to faithfully express support for people with mental illness and their families is by sponsoring a worship service at your church on the National Day of Prayer for People with Mental Illness Oct. 9. You can use this opportunity to provide educational and support resources for people to access before and after the service. A Mental Health Ministries offers a downloadable worship resource.
More information and resources, including a bulletin insert, are available for faith communities to observe this special week. To access faith resources on mental illness visit the following websites: