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Don’t forget those with mental illnesses…

October 11, 2011

downs syndromeI have been unemployed for over a year now, when the Christian bookshop I managed suffered from the recession, and have been job hunting during that time. One of the part-time jobs which I’ve taken on to make ends met is as a carer for those with mental illnesses or mental or physical disabilities who need varying levels of personal care. Whilst my church ran a group for those with learning disabilities it wasn’t something which I had been too heavily involved in and as a result I hadn’t gotten to know too many people in such a position. However, for the past few months I’ve been covering for full-time carers, mostly in the evening and at weekends and this has given me the chance to begin to get to know a few such people, which has been an amazing privilege.

For most of us, myself included, the world of mental health illness and the people who cope with them and their carers is often a forgotten world. We may occasionally see such a person out about occasionally but I would imagine we give them little thought the rest of the time. However, what I’ve realised as I’ve gotten to know some of the people I’ve been able to support, is that they are often amazing people whom despite their many and varying struggles often have the most amazing sense of humour and have taught me a lot about what it is to be human. When we think about what it means to be human I imagine we think of people like ourselves.ย  When we think about what it means to have a worthy or fulfilling life perhaps we think about being successful in our careers, having a happy family or maybe thinking about those who have particularly excelled in some field, for instance Einstein or maybe the recently deceased Steve Jobs. However, if we think that these things, having a family or being successful, is what makes us truly human then we automatically devalue those who can’t achieve such things, like those I support, and they are immediately left out in the cold. We are made in the image of God, which means are characters and personalities with all our free will and ability to make choices and decisions are what it is to be human, and the Christian Gospel tells us that the more we allow God to release us from our bad decisions and rebellion against Him, the more fully human we become. I catch a glimpse of that whenever I spend time with those I’m supporting because all the usual traps we fall into, house, careers, cars etc are just taken out of the equation and I am forced to rethink my ideas of humanity and the purpose of life.

I’m writing, not only because of what I’ve learnt from those whom I support but because I think for most Christians and most churches, such people have been forgotten. It is completely understandable because unless you’re in that world those with mentally illnesses are fairly invisible. They may live in their own houses, they usually out and about when most people are at work and attend groups which are for those like them. However, if we are to obey Jesus’ commands and reach out to all people, and make disciples from every nation, tribe and tongue then we must reach out to these people too. As I said my church runs a group for those with learning disabilities and includes them in one of the services which we hold on a Sunday, I wonder how other churches do it? If your church doesn’t then can I suggest that you find out if there are people in your community who have mental health issues and see if there is a way in which you can include them within the Christian community. You never know what they might teach you!

26 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2011 2:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing! Great and challenging thoughts! I am a seminary student and recently took a class called “the theology of suffering, disability and the church.” It was so worthwhile. Sadly, the disabled (whether mentally or physically) are forgotten about or stereotyped by the church. Joni Eareckson Tada’s organization “Joni and Friends” has material to help churches mobilize and reach out to the disabled. It is awesome that your church is already doing so!

    • October 11, 2011 4:56 pm

      Thanks Laura, I’m glad they are teaching a course on it at your seminary! I’ll take a look at Joni’s material. Thanks again, Mike

  2. October 11, 2011 3:47 pm

    Mike, you are a man of many means ๐Ÿ™‚ What an inspirational post regarding challenges. Having a daughter that has developmental delays, I can understand how one is left ‘out of the loop’. It really is sad, and there are not many people out there now a days to do much about it. Thank you for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

    • October 11, 2011 4:54 pm

      Thanks Mary, do be encouraging your church to help those in this situation. I hope you’re daughter is getting on well ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. October 11, 2011 4:51 pm

    The hardest time I have had and the worst (hurt) advise I have gotten has been from the church..I have a Christian counselor who knows what to say when and where my hurts come from..without leading to shame….As always…XOXOXOOX

    • October 11, 2011 4:52 pm

      That is so sad to hear Bongo, the church should be the place we are most cared for!

  4. October 11, 2011 6:47 pm

    Hi Mike,
    great reminder about loving people, mentally challenge included. They are people who do have extraordinary lives that can inspire others. But, they are also lives that need love and acceptance and understanding. We known some over the years through church. The rich look on their faces when they are received, loved, and appreciated is priceless.


    • October 12, 2011 8:06 am

      Thanks Joseph, I appreciate your comments. Thanks for stopping by ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. October 11, 2011 6:49 pm

    Thanks for sharing!

    I think–in a nutshell–when we understand that EVERYONE has something to teach us…when we make open our minds to at least one lesson from everyone we meet…we’re on the right path!

    Visiting from Authentic Blogger.

    • October 12, 2011 8:05 am

      Thanks Brandee, your nutshell is helpful, I’d add that God is invloved their too ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. October 11, 2011 9:12 pm

    How I loved this post! There are so many people with mental and physical disabilities who deserve the same love and inclusion by the church as any other “normal” folks.

    I am so inspired by a young man I met on Facebook who is legally blind and born with other physical deformities which doctors declared would end his life by the age of five. He is now 27, heavily involved in politics, and travels all over the country giving his testimony about Jesus’ great work in his life. And we get upset over a broken nail or a splinter in our finger!

    Sure makes one think, doesn’t it?

    Thank you, Mike, for another thought-provoking and meaningful post!

    Blessings to you and yours!

    • October 12, 2011 8:04 am

      Thanks Martha for your comments, gad you enjoyed it ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. October 12, 2011 12:29 am

    I have to add just a little from my own experience as well. Not only are the mentally ill invisible, but when seen treated with fear or disdain. I am not a Christian such as some of the people here are, but I know how to treat a human being. When I went out with my daughter the first time with her mentally and physically handicapped child, I heard remarks that would curl your hair, I was ashamed to be of the same race. I have worked with all kinds of people in my life and no one deserves the treatment I observed. Not even the people who were doing it. I just find it sad that they could make such judgments out of fear and ignorance. Sorry for the rant but it really gets to this mother and grandmother. Looking at this I see that my statement about Christians could be taken wrong, I was not in any way putting myself above or below just different. I have my faith.

  8. October 12, 2011 12:29 am

    Thank you for this post by the way….I did enjoy that this was brought to light a little more.

  9. October 12, 2011 1:09 am

    mike i will be linking to your post tomorrow on my wedensday child post. in my church Saint James the just catholic church they are seated the same as any other person that come in the door for mass and treated the same.. to my way of thinking god have already given them a free pass to heaven. i have never met one i would call a sinner or have i heard of one commenting a crime. we have a boy who takes part in the mass every Sunday who has downs he carries the gift up to the alter and one who is artistic who sings in the quire. and a boy who has downs and CP who is a fourth degree knight in the knight of Columbus. i could not be more proud to call them my friends.

    • October 20, 2011 12:55 pm

      Thanks Roy for your comment and for the link, good to hear how other churches are reaching out to those who live in this way!!

  10. October 12, 2011 11:34 am

    It is very challenging to raise a mentally challenged child, I salute all those parents who sacrifice a lot for their kids, with only a few rewards. My heart really goes out for them. Some times, it get too much for the parents that they do tend to neglect their kids who are mentally challenged, they are even embarrassed to bring their kids out with them, that is a bit sad.
    Thanks for this wonderful post.

  11. October 12, 2011 11:24 pm

    It certainly is a challenge AND a calling to work with those with mental illnesses. And, you are so right when you say it’s an invisible ‘illness’.

    Thanks for your wonderful post!

  12. October 13, 2011 9:35 am

    It’s great that you are doing this –
    And I know what it’s like losing your job – it’s a horrible feeling – but you are getting on with things and making the best of the situation and helping others. If only more people in society were as giving as you – what a different place the world would be!

  13. October 13, 2011 4:49 pm

    This is a very touching post, Mike. I have seen a friend struggle with her son who was a Down’s Syndrome child and it’s really tough in India, because the support from the Church or the Government is non-existent. You are doing a wonderful job of giving the carers a much needed break and in the process learning much. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • October 20, 2011 12:54 pm

      Thanks Corinne, I hope the Church in India can reach out a care for those around them.

  14. October 20, 2011 5:08 am

    Hello Mike! This post is beautiful. These wonderful people (for the most part) are allowed by God to remain innocent. The faith of a child is the utmost.
    On another note – I am praying for you. I know what it is like to be out of work, and in these absurd times we live in, the search is difficult on a good day. I pray that God leads you to the right place, at the right time, and gives you the blessing you are waiting for.

    • October 20, 2011 12:53 pm

      Thanks Susan, means a lot to have brothers and sisters praying for me!

  15. Claire permalink
    September 11, 2013 2:23 am

    Dear MIke,
    I just ran across your post. Your caring for people with disabilities is admirable. I think, however you have some terms mixed up. A learning disability is very very different than a developmental delay. A person with a learning disability is of average intelligence or above, quite often gifted. They have a difference in how they take in, integrate or output information. This makes is difficult in our classrooms that are designed for one way of doing things. This is not a mental illness at all. A developmental delay actually impacts the quality of thought processes, a learning disability does not. Hope things are going well for you.

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