It is an exciting time to be working in the field of mental health. So much is happening within the media to help eliminate the stigma of mental illness.
The high profile Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign has been effective in getting the word out and at the same time has been able to make money toward the cause. The coverage of Robin Williams’ suicide has provided an educational forum about depression and suicide. Research on the brain and the new scientific discoveries and possibilities for treatment of mental illness have been incredible.
However, when we look at how this is all impacting the front lines for those experiencing mental illnesses and their families the battle is certainly not over. They are experiencing as much weariness, loneliness, and shame as ever before. The mental health care system is still a confusing maze in which many get lost. Treatment comes with certain restrictions, requirements and side effects that are not there in the physical health care system.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CHMA), only one out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them. Mental health disorders in youth are ranked as the second highest health care expenditure in Canada (second only to injuries). Almost a third of Canadians who seek mental health care report that their needs are unmet or only partially met. The rate is even higher for children and youth, yet mental illnesses receive less than 6% of health care dollars in Canada.
27% percent of caregivers lost income and 29% incurred major financial costs related to caring for a family member living with a mental health problem, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Clearly we need so much more than talk! We need to listen and take action and move on to prevention.
Shalem’s Sunshine From Darkness program is working on this concern in several ways. We provide up-to-date information and resources on mental illness for individuals and families to help them toward recovery. This past year we responded to numerous such calls from individuals and family members and provided follow up information.
Networking is also an important component of our work to support connection and interaction with community mental health resources. Some of this networking is happening at the local level. For example, in Bowmanville we are working with the local ministerial association to pull together neighbouring churches to provide a free meal at least once a month. This dinner provides more than just food as we invite anyone who needs fellowship and connections or relationships within the community. The group is called The Gathering Place and there are usually 7 to 9 churches working together each time to make this happen.
Regionally, we also work with Classis Quinte, a group of about 20 Christian Reformed Churches from Kingston to Ajax and north to Port Perry and Peterborough with a project called Faith and Hope Ministries. Its mission is “to empower congregations to support and care for those with mental illnesses and their families or caregivers to provide a supportive Christian community.” We know we all need strong relationships and community connections but often are not sure how to walk beside someone with mental illness. Faith and Hope Ministries works to provide awareness and educational workshops, group discussions, resource materials, help with support group formation, connections with community resources and so on. We have also expanded outside the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) community to offer our support to many other faith communities and denominations.
Nationally and internationally we are involved with the Disability Concerns Committee of the CRC of North America mental health task force. This group was formed in 2009 to bring more attention to the issues of mental illness by increasing awareness and breaking the silence. Over the years we have developed many resources, gathered stories and testimonies, written articles and sermons, and developed a Bible Study entitled Let’s Talk. This year our focus is on clergy and their mental health and care. Watch for more about this in upcoming months.