By Rev. Angel L. Sullivan
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” Psalm 82:3
Did you know that, according to NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year? Or that approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life? Going even younger, for children aged 8–15 the estimate is 13%.
We’re talking about this now because AB Women’s Ministries’ 2017-2018 mission focus is on homelessness in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. There is a direct connection between homelessness and mental illness: An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.
I work as a hospital chaplain primarily with men, women, and children living with mental illness. I am often asked, “How do you approach persons with mental illness?” My response is simply, “Be kind.” Mental illness is an illness. It is not a punishment from God, karma, or demonic possession, as some people think. It is an illness that presents in various forms. It can present as mood disorders. A person can experience trauma, have a family history, or it can be brought on by substance abuse. In any case, it is an illness and persons should receive the same amount of love and dignity as someone who is facing a chronic or life-threatening physical illness.
As leaders in our churches, homes, communities, and workplaces, we have an opportunity to create comforting spaces that will allow individuals living with mental illness, and family members affected by mental illness, the opportunity to educate and share stories, to help to break down stereotypes, and create support systems.
How can we do this?
- Hold a church forum where there can be supportive and honest dialogue.
- Create a mental health ministry where people can feel free to build supportive relationships.
- If you have a leadership position in your church or community I encourage you to reach out to other mental health professionals in the area and build a professional network. Therefore, if you or a person in your church is in need of support beyond what you can provide, you will know who to call.
- Contact your government officials and advocate for policy changes to access better funding and resources. I have listed three e-mail helpful e-mail links below.
Finally always remember to just be kind. Kindness goes a long way. These are small changes you can make with a great impact.
Here are some links with more information.