Our congregation has been part of an important trend: like many people these days, we are talking more about mental health issues. Of course, “mental health issues” is a broad phrase. It can include everything from discussions about how to help high-schoolers deal with everyday life stresses (relationships, substance use/abuse, high stress expectations around school, etc.) to helping families cope with loved ones suffering from schizophrenia – and a thousand things in-between. I am very happy whenever people are willing to address these subjects, very happy to see the taboos about these things falling away, because mental health issues affect all of us, and they affect some of us in life-changing ways. As the church, it is important for us to encourage these conversations. These issues are our issues – these issues are my issues.
I have a very good friend who suffers from mild paranoid delusions. Actually, I had such a friend. The way this condition has changed him has made it impossible to be his friend for the last few years. When the condition began to worsen and he would still talk with me, I don’t think I was much help. As is often the case, it took me too long to realize that this was headed in a really difficult direction for him. And again, as is often the case, he refused to acknowledge any problem or get professional help, even when the condition led to the loss of his job, the end of his marriage, and the breaking of his relationships with his kids. My heart aches for him and his family. And there the situation remains. No improvement. No resolution. No feel-good ending. And so it is with so many people. And that is why we (as in everybody, and the church especially) need to talk about it – because we need to show steadfast love to people in difficult situations.
As I mentioned, “mental health issues” is a broad topic. At Union Church, we are working on both the obviously more serious/urgent side of things, and on matters that are just as serious, but more foundational. On the more urgent matters, I am so proud of what our congregation has done through our involvement with DuPage United. In a few days, the DuPage County will be the first county in Illinois to offer its own Crisis Intervention Team training to police officers under new state laws that became effective at the beginning of this year. DuPage United, with very active involvement from members of Union Church, directly made this possible. This training will dramatically improve the ability of police to handle situations that involve mental illness. It will almost surely save lives, and it will improve lives for many families. We can be proud of our part in making this happen.
On the more foundational level we have put together a terrific series of adult education offerings this fall that address matters of mental health, beginning with two important workshops on “Conflict Transformation Skills.” (Registration at that link required, or call Penny Johnson, 630.323.4303.) Conflict happens. These workshops will help you transform conflicts into opportunities to learn about yourself and God. This applies to marriage/parenting/family conflicts, work conflicts, and even church conflicts (yes, they happen <sad face> ). Look for information in church emails and the Community Life on Sunday. Dealing well with conflict is a great movement toward good mental health! The leader of those workshops, Bill Blank, will also be with us this Sunday, September 11, to preach, so I hope you are in worship this Sunday!
Union Church is making a difference in people’s lives. Let’s keep talking about, and taking action on, things that really matter to our families, like mental health.
Oh, one last thing: the September 6 UCC Daily Devotional was about mental health, and is very good. I encourage everyone to read it!
Peace and well-being to all (mental and otherwise!),
Reverend J Michael Solberg
The Union Church of Hinsdale, U.C.C.