Be the change

“The mental health system failed our son.” This was the phrase that stuck out to me while I watching a news segment on television. The Father was talking about his 19 year old son who took his life while waiting for an appointment to see a mental health specialist.

I wish that this was the only time I have heard of this sort of thing happening. I have had parents sitting across from me in my office asking how a doctor could let their child, obviously in crisis, to walk out of a hospital. I have seen this same sort of thing in the case of adults as well. This is not an issue reserved for youth.

The mental health care system in this country is grossly underfunded and incredibly overwhelmed. There are thousands of good mental health practitioners across the country; however there are millions of people who need their services. In the city I live, the average wait time is about 3 months to see a practitioner. That can go as high as 6 months depending on the type of help you are looking for. I have heard stories of people intentionally harming themselves because they feel they can’t wait that long so they do something drastic just to be admitted to a hospital. This is a crisis.

Please understand me. I am not posting this to condemn the mental health care system. I am not a clinical practitioner & I do not work in a mental health facility, and because of this feel underqualified to offer solutions to the problems from a systemic approach. I have my ideas of course but I have no intention of telling these people how to do their jobs. Instead I am going to speak to what I do know.

I can be a part of the solution. You can be a part of the solution as well.

Arguably one of the primary factors in effective mental health care is the removal from isolation for the person in need. Being surrounded by a community of people who are willing to include the individual is vital to a person’s mental health. While we can’t necessarily fix the problem we can serve those who are impacted by it.

As someone who struggles with multiple diagnoses I can tell you first hand that what I need the most is not someone who can fix me. I need someone who will care about me. Yes medical treatment and professional care is a key component as well, but if I don’t feel as though I have a purpose then I have no reason to seek out that treatment. My mindset changes from “This is going to be hard but I can do it.” to “Why bother?”

That is where we come in. We can be that community.

One of the things I have heard over the last couple of years since starting the Mental Health Initiative in Celebrate Recovery is that people don’t feel qualified to help, that there should be training before we approach someone who has a mental health issue. I disagree with that idea. If we wait until someone who is a trained professional to reach out to someone in our Celebrate Recovery’s, Churches, communities, then we are leaving people alone to be loved by a system that is not able to handle the demand.

Remember that what I am talking about is not treatment! If you are not trained then you shouldn’t be treating. At the same time we don’t need to be a professional to show someone we care. Think of it this way…If someone came up to you and started to talk about their high blood pressure or their diabetes would you stop and say “We shouldn’t talk about that kind of stuff. I’m not a doctor.” Both of those things require a professional diagnosis. Both of those things can be deadly if not managed correctly. Yet there is no stigma associated with those topics because society has chosen to allow that kind of conversation to be acceptable. As it should be.

The Celebrate Recovery Mental Health Initiative has a lot of pieces and differing levels of involvement. 95% of the participation is going to be CR participants showing that CR is a safe place to talk about and search for support for their mental health issues. Letting people know that while they are waiting for those appointments that there are people who will listen, people who will offer support, people who are willing to treat their brothers and sisters as equals, people who will let them know that they have value, people who will let them know they have a purpose. We very well may be the reason that someone goes from the “Why bother?” thought process to the “This will be hard but I can do it.” process.

We have an opportunity to help remove the stigma of mental health in our churches. This can and will save lives.

The month of May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. There are going to be people who reach out to our groups for hope. The question is, are we going to be ready for that? Are we going to be ready to show that it is ok to struggle with our mental health? Not to have answers. Not to have a fix. Are we ready to show the love of Christ?

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery.


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