by Rev. Alan Johnson
She was 17 years old and came by the booth I was hosting on mental health challenges. Before she whispered these words to me, she had looked around to make sure no one else was listening. I leaned in and she told me that she has been living with depression and finally she had talked with her mom, found a therapist and started medication. Her depression had been clinging to her spirit, weighing her down, for a long time. But now she is engaged with others, a member of a church youth group, and has even had the courage to tell one of her closest friends of her struggles with depression.
I felt privileged that she would talk with me, a stranger, although I was at a church conference and I was at a display on mental health. She seemed relieved to be able to speak, to name her situation, and to find a listening heart.
There are so many people, including young people, who are living in the shadow of mental health challenges. They are in our families. They are in our faith communities. How can we offer the hospitality of spirit so that the sharing of such stories as the teenager’s can be balm for healing and offer hope?
One of the easiest ways faith community leaders can help is by using caring and compassionate words in their sermons, homilies or prayers. While many congregations are not known for being open to naming mental health challenges, they can start small. Using the words, “we pray for those who are living with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression,” or “we pray for those who are battling addictions or mental illness,” or “we pray for those who are affected by mental illness, including their families and friends,” can open a door for people who are living in the isolation of silence and help them realize they are not alone. These words can create a space where people can feel safe to speak their truth.
When have you experienced such a welcome? When has hospitality opened a door for you or someone you love to find a place where your spirit can be at home? I don’t really know if the 17-year-old girl felt better after talking with me. However, I surely did feel connected. I am telling this story so others may also be attentive to those times when chance encounters can help break the silence. Out of the whisper, a truth was spoken that led from vulnerability to strength.
Interfaith Network on Mental Illness and Caring Clergy Project
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.