Dealing with mental illness

From CNS News Briefs:

Webinar explores ways church can respond to mentally ill young people

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The best way church ministry leaders can help a young person struggling with mental illness is not to try to save them but to work to put them in a position where they can save themselves, said panelists at a June 10 Webinar sponsored by the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. Linea Johnson, a recent college graduate from Seattle who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and Robert McCarty, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry in Washington, agreed that empowerment and communication are crucial in helping young people with mental illness find their way. "The bottom-line resource is the relationship you have formed with this young person," said McCarty, urging those who work with youths to practice "the ministry of wasting time" and to cultivate "the skill of creative loafing." Only that way will youth leaders find "opportunities to pick up what's really going on in a young person's life," he said.

Those with mental illness still suffer from much stigmatization in our society. For the most part, people don't cause their own illnesses, mental or physical, nor are they in control of how it occurs or manifests itself. It seems to me that many people are afraid of mental illness because it seems so uncontrollable, and people with mental illness seem out-of-control.

I have a front row seat on some pretty severe mental health issues, given the challenges some of my kids face. It is clear to us that their issues have been visited upon them, partly by genetics and partly by poor choices their birth mother made during her pregnancies. Not their fault, but they still have to deal with all of it.

One of my kids has a much bigger burden to bear: severe depression, oppositional behavior, possible bipolar. We tinker with meds, work at different therapies, pray and pray some more. What is NOT helpful is that some people tell us that we're just not tough enough on our kids - "a firm hand" would straighten them out. We even had a cop pull my husband aside once and tell him to "law down the law...with a fist if necessary." Mental health care via child abuse.

While I agree that my kids have always needed a clear sense of structure, they do not need to be hit. Striking them won't cure their illness, and no one would tell a parent whose kid is suffering from diabetes or leukemia to "law down the law". My kids do need compassion, understanding and empowerment, just as the article above suggests. They need to know they have a place in our Church and in our society, and that, most importantly, Christ is with them in their sorrows and in their joys.

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