Peter and I had a great conversation this morning at Corromandel Valley Uniting Church with a number of Church leaders interested in how we can walk alongside people in our congregations and communities who are struggling with bumpy roads in their mental health. (Notes available here)
Those who came did so with some really powerful questions around the role that a community (such as a Church congregation) can have in supporting the work done by medical and other professional services (such as Baptist Care and Uniting Communities).
We shared about times when we had seen genuine flourishing of people experiencing persistent and chronic mental health concerns.
Some of the characteristics that we recognised across all of these experiences were:
- People experiencing ongoing mental health concerns were connected with others in the community in areas of mutual strength and passion (golfing, fishing, gardening) rather than out of areas of one person’s deficit and need.
- These individuals were encouraged and supported to contribute to the community in a meaningful and rewarding way. Often a great deal of flexibility was needed to support this and growth in capacity was very often witnessed over time.
- A culture in which a spectrum of mental health could be experienced became normalised.
- Individuals were seen as people and friends rather than projects or clients. Along with a recognision that we are doing this alongside mental health professionals rather than fulfilling this role ourselves.
- Specific individuals (or small groups of individuals) stepped up by becoming informed friends but of equal significance were deliberate community frameworks (ie. intentional meals and gatherings) existing around these individuals to help support and sustain these friendships over a long time (knowing that this is not about short term “curing”). These frameworks supported individuals so that they didn’t feel like “it will all come down to me”; “I’m doing it on my own”.
- A true culture of risk-taking and a willingness to accept what otherwise might be deemed as failure. (More about that here).
If you are interested in participating in a similar conversation we are hoping to facilitate more gatherings like this one in the northern and western regions of Adelaide in the new year. If you would like to host us please contact me.
Baptist Care will also be providing training in the area in 2015.