By NEMS Daily Journal
The observance of Mental Illness Awareness Week Oct. 3-8 offers an appropriate window to emphasize the importance of diagnosing, treating and caring for people with mental health problems – and how compassionate ethical and spiritual attitudes assist that cause.
About 170 years ago, a woman named Dorothea Lynn Dix visited a jail in Massachusetts and found mentally ill people chained to the walls. She began a one-person crusade for professional, respectful treatment of the mentally ill.
It was a critical first step, and while progress for decades at a time was uneven, the scientific view of treatment has come to prevail, and the main stream of religion in the United States embraces that view.
A new concept, developed after World War II, uses a community model, which has spread across the nation.
The concept recognizes the importance of the spiritual dimension in mental health, and most faith streams have embraced as a central importance the wholeness and fulfillment of people. It is generally accepted by many professionals in medicine and among clergy that people are mentally healthy to the degree that they can live two great commandments, to love God and neighbor fully.
Church and temple are natural allies with science for healthy religion and healthy minds.
- Mental and spiritual health are inseparable. The health of self-relationships with self and others (mental health), and with God, the universe, and ultimate values (spiritual health), are deeply interdependent, and the importance of the interworking in a community setting increases where religion is an important community value.
- We agree with professionals whose views hold that no understanding of mental health is complete if it ignores spiritual health and no concept of spiritual health is complete if it ignores mental health.
- Positive mental health is synonymous with the “wholeness” of people as known in many faith streams. Mental health particularly is a long-term concern of the Hebrew-Christian tradition. Jesus of Nazareth said, “I have come that men may have life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10 New English Bible).
Every clergyperson is deeply involved in mental health concerns. As members of one of the oldest counseling, caring professions, clergy affirm their heritage by increased involvement in mental-spiritual health ministries within communities.
- Behind the cold statistics of mental illness are real people suffering in various hells of brokenness.
Immature religions contribute to the suffering. If churches and temples pass by on the other side of the biblically familiar Jericho Road of mental illness and health they ignore their mission to help heal troubled and broken individuals and families.
- Religious communities have unique and essential assets in mental health care. These contributions can enlarge and enrich the positive image of mental health by bringing an emphasis on values, meanings, and relatedness to the spirit that permeates all of existence.
Congregations can make their unique contribution, and some sponsor their own counseling centers with mental health professionals in special ministries.
Wholeness for this life is about creativity, relationships, tragedy, love, reality and holistic societies.
This kind of religious/spiritual ministry and journey moves far beyond the important goal of helping the mentally ill. Its ultimate aim is life in all its fullness, as Jesus taught.