How to make a difference in the life of someone with mental illness

by Anne Weiher

1.  Use person-first language. I am not bipolar, I live with bipolar disorder. Do not refer us as “the mentally ill.”  Call us “people who live with mental illnesses.”

2. While I can hide my illness, many cannot. All of God’s creatures deserve love and respect from others.  Please treat us accordingly.

3. Educate yourself about my illness and those of others. Know that I would appreciate sincere questions about my current state. Continue reading “How to make a difference in the life of someone with mental illness”

Spiritual Medicine

By Kathy Naman

As a psychotherapist, I knew of INMI from my participation in wonderful educational events over the last few years. The content of each program was excellent but what intrigued me at each event was the warmth and heart in the conference environment. That warmth inspired me to join the INMI board.

As a psychotherapist, I see the wounding that can happen in the Continue reading “Spiritual Medicine”

A List of Wishes for Mental Health Service Providers in 2015

(written by the mother of a young adult son who is being treated for bipolar disorder)

1. Care. It really shows when you do. It really shows when you don’t.

2. Remember who you’re serving. Expecting a severely mentally ill patient to ask clear questions about your “menu of services” is completely unrealistic.

3. Speak in layman’s terms when providing information about what you can do for your patients. Continue reading “A List of Wishes for Mental Health Service Providers in 2015”

Looking back at 2014: Sprouting seeds

by Joanne Kelly

Looking back over the last year gives me hope.

When we started the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness in 2007, very few people were talking about the intersection of faith/religion/spirituality and mental health — just a few brave pioneers holding small conferences that brought together local mental health professionals and faith community leaders. These visionaries were the Johnny Appleseeds of their day. Continue reading “Looking back at 2014: Sprouting seeds”

Light will return

by Rabbi Deborah Bronstein

As many of us can attest, this season of the year, with it its growing darkness outside and the sometimes inaccessible brightness of the holidays, can be very bitter. We are not the first to taste its bitterness.

A story:

Several disciples of Rabbi Nahum of Tchernobil (1730-1797) came to him and wept and complained that they had fallen prey to darkness and depression and could not lift up their heads either in the teachings or in prayer. The zaddik (the righteous one) saw the state of their hearts and that they sincerely yearned for the nearness of the living God. He said to them: “My dear sons, do not be distressed at this seeming death which has come upon you. For everything that is in the world is also in man. And just as on New Year’s Day life ceases on all the stars and they sink into a deep sleep, in which they are strengthened and from which they awake with a new power of shining, so those men who truly desire to come close to God, must pass through the state of cessation of spiritual life, and ‘the falling is for the sake of the rising.’ As it is written that the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept and from his sleep he arose, a whole man.

Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters pg. 173

Light will return: to our spirits, to our hearts and to our minds.

Light will return.

by Rabbi Deborah Bronstein
INMI Board Member

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.


by Joanne Kelly

If you are an astute observer and you stand in the courtyard of my son’s apartment building, you might notice that everyone’s window blinds are white except Jay’s. The blinds in his windows are a golden brown, the outward manifestation of a two-packs-a-day smoking habit multiplied by four years of occupancy in this particular apartment.

Today is pretty typical of my visits over the last few months. Jay hasn’t answered any of my phone calls this week. It is 4:00 in the afternoon on a sunny day in late November. I knock. I wait. I knock again. I wait some more. Finally I hear him unlock the deadbolt. He opens the door looking disheveled and groggy. Obviously, I have interrupted his sleep.

I step inside and wait for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. The nicotine-coated blinds block all vestiges of daylight.  One dim bulb casts its feeble light directly inside the front door. It is the only light he turns on because he pays for his own electricity. Heat, however, is included in the rent. It is at least 80 degrees in his apartment. Nonetheless, I don’t take off my coat. I am hoping the extra layer of clothing will offer a modicum of extra protection from the suffocating fog of cigarette and pot smoke that hangs in the air.

I move his backpack off the picnic cooler he keeps next to his front door and sit down on it. I avoid the couch because I don’t want to risk finding a bedbug hitchhiking in my clothes when I get home. He has had his apartment doused with poison multiple times in an effort to keep the bedbugs at bay. They always come back.

Mercifully, he turns off the radio, which blares a Christian rock station. He knows it is the first request I will make, because at the volume he prefers, the music feels like an assault on my ageing ears.  I am grateful he remembers and accommodates my needs.

He excuses himself to go to the bathroom. From my perch next to the door, I can see most of his tiny apartment. Three plastic grocery bags overflowing with garbage sit on the floor next to his kitchen garbage can, which is also overflowing. Every flat surface in his kitchen, even the stove top, is filled with empty pop and beer bottles, empty soup cans, empty cereal boxes. As far as I can tell, they are in the same position they were in last week when I stopped by.

His living room is a little more orderly, but piles of cigarette ash have collected on the floor around the edges of his furniture.

As I wait for Jay to come out of the bathroom, my cheeks begin to tingle. It is an early warning sign that my chemical sensitivities are kicking in. I don’t know if it is the cigarette smoke or the residual bedbug poison. It doesn’t matter much. I know I will soon be overcome with exhaustion and my head will begin to feel like it is splitting open.

Jay finally emerges from the bathroom and goes to his kitchen sink to wash his hands. I suspect his bathroom sink is too disgusting to use, because it has been months since I have paid someone to clean his place. Frequently, I have his apartment cleaned for him when he is in the hospital. But after five hospitalizations in the past year, I decided I didn’t want him to consider the housecleaning a perk of being ill. After his last discharge, I told Jay I would pay someone to helphim clean his apartment, rather than paying someone to do the cleaning for him, but he would have to call the housecleaner to set it up. That was months ago. It hasn’t happened yet. I know schizoaffective disorder zaps your ability to initiate action, but on the other hand, he is trying hard to be an independent adult. I wrestle daily with the location of the line between doing too much for him and not doing enough.

He uses his elbows to turn on the kitchen faucets and squirts dish soap on his hands. He scrubs each finger individually with such vigor and thoroughness it reminds me of a surgeon prepping for an operation. I wait patiently for the scrubbing ritual to end. When he is finished, he turns the faucets back off with his elbows. He does not dry his hands.

He sits at the end of the couch with his forearms resting on his thighs, his dripping hands hanging gracefully a few inches beyond his knees. His long, thin fingers seem to glow in the dim light. Frequent vigorous washings have left the skin on his knuckles cracked and oozing.

I start my usual questioning. He tells me he is sleeping well, from late afternoon until about midnight. Today he had two cans of soup for breakfast, the only meal he has eaten in 24 hours. He is out of Honey Nut Cheerios, his usual breakfast (and also frequently his only meal of the day) and has not made it to the store to get more. He is not interested in having me take him to the store right now to fill his cupboards and stock his refrigerator. “I’ll get to it, Mom,” he says. He has not done laundry in weeks. “I’ll get to it, Mom,” he repeats, this time with a note of irritation in his voice.  He has not seen any of his friends except the neighbor from whom he procures his pot.

The good news: Every day this week he has taken a bus across town to pick up his daily medications from the mental health center.

He looks like he hasn’t showered in days, but I don’t ask if that is true. He agrees to let me take him out to dinner for his 41st birthday, which is just over a week away. I know the answer in advance, but I ask anyway: Does he want to join us for Thanksgiving dinner? As expected, he politely declines. He cannot be under the same roof as my husband, whom he believes is the one who fills his brain with “interference” – his word for the negative, intrusive voices that crowd his thoughts.

My eyelids and limbs grow heavy.  As the exhaustion infiltrates my bones, I decide to leave before I get too logy to drive. I open the door and gulp the crisp fresh air that rushes in.

When I get home, I perform my own ritual: I walk to the laundry room and remove my coat and all my clothes, dropping them directly into the washing machine. Even my underwear reeks of smoke.  I proceed to the bathroom. I sit in the empty tub, hugging my knees, and turn on the water. The rumble of the water filling the tub muffles my sobs.  When the tub is full, I relax into the water’s soothing embrace. I close my eyes and ask God to keep Jay safe for another week. Until my next visit.

Joanne Kelly

INMI Cofounder


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.

A Simple Way to Reach Out for Support

by Sue Brightman

In our twice-monthly Spiritual Support Group for Mental Health and Wellness, we read a set of guidelines that help create a supportive, safe, and uplifting group meeting where everyone feels free to share whatever is taking place in their lives related to their (or a family member’s) mental illness.

My favorite guideline is “The wisdom that emerges in the group belongs to the group.”  Meeting after meeting, I as one of the facilitators witness how group members contribute and weave together their experiences and learnings about what has been helpful – and not helpful – on their various journeys from hopelessness and difficulty to recovery and healing.

Several ideas have stuck with me from the group’s wisdom. One of them is the concept of getting support when it’s hard to reach out and when something daunting is ahead (like a job interview or court hearing). It’s called Bookends.

The practice of “Bookends” is the wonderfully simple idea to identify a friend, family member, or perhaps church associate who is supportive and understanding and ask if they will support us before and right after the daunting event we’re facing. It’s a way of not being so alone with our thoughts and fears. It’s a way of reminding ourselves that others care about us. It’s a way of allowing ourselves to be part of the human family at a time when we may feel least prone to do so.

Most of us know a friend or family member who cares enough to help in this way … and might even feel honored that we trusted them enough to ask! They don’t have to give advice if we don’t want advice, nor do they have to be counselors or therapists to simply provide support.  It can just be helpful – as we’re about to leave for the interview or the court hearing – to tell someone that we feel a bit nervous and to share a little about our goals or hopes for the event. In every experience I’ve had, as well as experiences I’ve heard from others, we then get hope, relief, and energy from hearing the other person’s support in whatever way they share it. Someone recently reported how “holy” the moment felt receiving the caring words of her friend.

When we have faith in something above and beyond our own human frailties and failings, we often feel a deep knowing that a Higher Power is supplying what we need and is directing what’s best for us. Reaching out to a friend and asking that they “bookend” our experience is a way of being humble and open to support and love. Though it may seem counterintuitive, it’s a big step for some of us to ask for help – and accept it! So the act of asking for someone’s support before and after a difficult event is also trusting that God will supply what we need in the human experience through the kindness and selfless giving of another. And if the first request doesn’t quite meet our need, we can always move on to another person. Persistence is an important quality during periods of recovery and progress.

Last January I was asked to conduct a workshop at a company situated deep in the Rocky Mountains. It would require a four hour drive through winding, steep mountain roads and over a notoriously dangerous mountain pass at 10,000 feet. Though I’m an experienced driver and generally confident behind the wheel, mountain roads in winter bring on fear and tension. I agreed to teach the workshop, but as the date got closer and the snow was falling more heavily, I began to feel distressed if not in an all-out sense of panic.

I remembered the concept of asking someone to provide “bookends of support.” Admittedly, I felt a little embarrassed to tell somewhat about my fear of driving in the mountains. For a moment, I thought it might show weakness. But I saw the strength in being humble and admitting that I needed support. I called a friend who I knew would not ridicule my dilemma but would respect my feelings about it, whether she shared those fears or not. We talked for 30 minutes the day before I was to make the trip.  She helped me think through what I should have in the car, what the plan should be if my worst fears were realized (sliding off the snowy road), and what parameters should help me decide if I should cancel the trip altogether. She asked if I’d call her from the road, part-way through the trip. The point is, she really responded to my request, beyond what I expected. We agreed that I would call when I arrived at my destination if I was unable to get a cellphone connection during the drive.

Much of my dread and fear disappeared. I found that reaching out for support made me feel more – not less – able. I made the trip with more confidence. I called my friend when I reached the final destination and happily told her that I’d made it. I talked to her about the stretch of road I’d most feared that ended up being no big deal. Since then, I’ve made that trip nine more times – four during the winter season – each time with more confidence.

Driving on snowy mountain roads may not be another’s most daunting scenario. It may be something completely different. The important point is that when we’re facing something difficult, we don’t have to do it alone.

In fact, we shouldn’t do it alone.

People who live with a mental illness are especially tempted to pull back from contact at times when they’re feeling the most vulnerable or depressed. And those are the times when being part of the family of man can be most helpful – because we experience the God-given provision of support and friendship right when we need it.

The “bookends of support” idea came from people in a Spiritual Support Group for Mental Health and Wellness – people who are well-versed in what helps during times of fear and times of darkness. This wisdom belongs to all of us, and is for the good of all of us.

We are all worthy of another’s help before and after whatever difficult mountain road we are traveling, literally or figuratively. May each person reading this experience the blessing and assurance of asking for help and getting it, bookend to bookend.

Sue Brightman

INMI Board Member

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.

Church Adopts WISE Covenant

by Joanne Kelly

At its fall congregational meeting on Oct. 19, 2014, the First Congregational Church, UCC, Boulder, Colorado, unanimously voted to become a WISE Congregation for Mental Health. The new covenant affirms the church’s intention to create a welcoming environment for persons with mental illnesses and their families; to include them in the life, work and leadership of the congregation; and to support them in a variety of ways. It also affirms the church’s commitment to engage with other organizations in this arena.

Senior Pastor Martie McMane articulated her vision for a thriving Mental Health Ministry six years ago. A core team responded and began sponsoring monthly adult forums on mental-health-related topics to educate the congregation. The Mental Health Ministry team also helped plan annual Mental Health Sunday celebrations and developed a Spiritual Support Group for Mental Health and Wellness that has been running biweekly for 5 years.

Two years ago, the church’s Accessible to All (A2A) team joined forces with the Mental Health Ministry. The joint team wrote the WISE covenant and solicited support from the congregation’s councils, boards and small groups.

“The most common question we got from the boards and councils was why we needed another covenant when we were already committed to welcoming people with disabilities,” said Rev. Alan Johnson, who leads the team. “We explained that accessibility isn’t the main issue for people with mental illness. Stigma is the big stumbling block. Our A2A covenant does an excellent job of addressing the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in our congregation. But most people with mental illnesses do not consider themselves disabled. Yet they face such huge barriers, many hide their illnesses from fellow congregants.”

The explanation struck a chord with the congregation, which passed the covenant unanimously.

Rev. Johnson expressed hope that other churches will use First Congregational Church’s covenant as a template or starting point for developing similar initiatives tailored to their congregations.


Joanne Kelly

INMI Cofounder

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.

Who is caring for the family?

By Leandra Price

During a recent week of vacation, I was privileged to visit with a family member whose 33-year-old son (“J”) was diagnosed 7 years ago with paranoid schizophrenia.  At the time of my visit, “J” was in crisis and was eventually admitted to an inpatient unit for an extended stay.  As I watched the family dynamics surrounding this situation, I was again reminded of the impact that one mentally ill person has on the rest of the family.  I observed guilt, frustration, blaming, sadness, anger and irritability as siblings and parents tried to figure out a long-range plan of care for this one very ill person whom they all love.

Years ago, when I worked as a hospice nurse, I recall that in caring for a terminally ill person, the “patient” was defined as “the whole family” (extended and biological).  We knew that there was no way to provide good care without incorporating the needs and wishes of the people who had a shared history and who interacted with the ill person on a daily basis. This cooperative model led to better care for the ill person, and I wish it was implemented more often in mental health care.

In the situation I described above, the parents of “J” are dealing with a kind of grief not unlike that of a parent who loses a child to death. The son they knew is gone and a stranger has taken his place.  He makes strange decisions, he does not communicate well, he changes from one living situation to another, he is sometimes angry and is often irrational and what they are left with is a constant ache and concern about his welfare. When he is hospitalized the family usually cannot converse with the care team and the most they can do is give pertinent information to the providers without receiving any feedback.

Are there any good solutions to this problem?  I truly do understand and appreciate HIPAA regulations and the importance of patient confidentiality.  I know that there are some organizations, such as NAMI, who work hard to support family members, and I realize that some churches also try to fulfill this role.   But when I see families in such emotional pain I want to say to them:

  • This is not your fault!
  • Please don’t let this destroy your family relationships – you need each other.
  • Try to understand that this ill person probably does not want to hurt you.
  • Remember that you – yourself – are valuable and important.
  • Take care of yourself in all ways – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – and don’t ever feel guilty for trying to find your own happiness.

I would like to add “Ask for help when you need it” but I know that stigma and fear often prevent people from asking and receiving help. So I also want to say to society:

“Open your arms to these vulnerable and hurting families. Don’t criticize them – just listen. Try to understand they are living with a kind of pain that may never go away. Give them a break when they need it.  Love them – they need us and we need them.  You may never be in their position, but if you are, you will know how much we all depend on each other. ”

Leandra Price

INMI board member

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.

Fighting Hard Battles

by Rev. Alan Johnson

Perhaps it was Plato who wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  I thought about this quote when I learned about the death of Robin Williams. Since attending a Christian service reflecting on his death  and attending a mental health panel along with reading so many blogs and commentaries on his death, the quote makes even more sense.

While many people are trying to explain why he ended his life, that line of inquiry does not seem very helpful. Was it depression, or bipolar disorder, or substance abuse, or financial difficulties, or the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease? I think the only one who might be able to give a credible answer to “why” is Robin himself.  Otherwise, we are looking in the dark trying to find some light.

When my younger brother ended his life, I truly did want to know why.  He had been hospitalized for depression, he had a deeply blessed marriage, he was financially in good shape, he had a family that loved him, he had been given medication, and he was well respected in his field of work. I do not know why he died by suicide. I can give my hunches, but the curtain is closed on my understanding, and that ought to make me stop trying to explain it.

Still, we do seek explanations, especially for a public person like Robin Williams. His death can be a mirror to see how we ourselves are doing. How are things going for me? If not that great, perhaps there are steps I can take to benefit my body, my mind, my spirit. Perhaps another outcome of this search is that all of us can pay more attention to issues that come to the surface as we explore. For instance, each of us can see it as a wake-up call to become even more aware of what mental illnesses/brain disorders are. We can seek to understand the devastation that comes from substance abuse. We can learn more about physically disabling illness. We  can learn about and see the signs and symptoms of such conditions. This will deepen our awareness with ourselves, as well as enrich our compassion towards those who live with these hard battles.

I am not suggesting that we become doctors, therapists or social workers. Rather, I am suggesting we work within our faith communities to raise awareness about mental health and the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses. We can educate ourselves and our congregations through a variety of programs and resources , including,,,,, and

When my family got around to figuring out what to say about how my brother died, we realized that we had to face it front on. People needed the truth. It was this quote that helped us. “Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” I can barely imaging the pain that my brother was experiencing and perhaps what was happening for Robin Williams, too, when they ended their lives.  All that I know is that I need to be kind.  Kind to everyone I meet. There are invisible battles that are being fought, and they are hard.

Alan Johnson

INMI Chair

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.