At the beginning of this summer, I watched a person’s face tighten in agony. She had an upset stomach as well as a headache. The world around her faded in importance. The one urgency was a dear relative who was hospitalized because of hallucinations and episodes of paranoia.
The episodes had been going on intermittently for forty years. Always the same and yet becoming more frequent. This relative lived for a while with a family but mostly has been independent. The day will come when an institution will be necessary.
Meanwhile, those who listen to the delusionary phone calls, who are in conversations with the police, the landlord, the bill-collectors, the doctors, fret considerably. There is no way to embrace the person and the disease without having one’s own life experience the ensuing turbulence.
Why would anyone in his/her right mind get involved in mental illness?
First, mental illness doesn’t float around in the atmosphere like second-hand smoke. Mental illness resides in human beings, people who did not elect it but whose lives are invaded by it. So many families, so many families, have members with mental illness.
Therefore, it is not simply that an individual suffers and seeks healing and comfort; so does the family. Avoidance and denial do not work. Any family worth its salt will stand up and face the reality.
Second, we Christians believe that God can be found in human flesh. Incarnation. “God was in Christ.” This assertion breeds infinite hope that God is resolute about flesh, all flesh. The ugly/pretty, skinny/fat, the non-white/the non-dark. The richly integrated and healthy person as well as the thoroughly confused and seriously challenged.
The life of Jesus Christ was directed toward people who needed a miracle. The ministry of Jesus Christ, as conducted by disciples, must be directed now toward people who need a miracle from a savior.
A good example of those who need a miracle are folks who suffer from serious mental illnesses.
I thank God for the work of the Episcopal Mental Illness Network. Also I thank God for the Rev. Chet Watson of the Diocese of California who has championed this vital ministry in season and out. If there is a General Convention such as in 2003 which passes a resolution on mental illness, there are great people in place to carry out the mandates. But they need help. We are sadly at the beginning of the church’s recognition of mental illness.
Therefore, the response from Episcopalians across this land is tentative at the present. But that will change.
As more and more Episcopalians collect around the need for the church to have a strong response—fitting for followers of the healing master of the Gospels—we will grow up.
Isolation is not necessary. Decisions can be assisted by experience and wisdom. Spiritual power will be available to sustain caring people. Healing will come from multiple resources but always from the Ultimate Source. The hour is early to wage the needed campaign in the church against mental illness. This is no moment to be discouraged. We are young. And we will grow up.
Families with persons with mental illnesses need New Testament healing power for themselves, and they will receive it. Suffering individuals need up-to-date care, treatment, and the promise of health, and they will receive it. The Episcopal Mental Illness Network is a blessing beyond our imagination.